Mediator combined gaseous substrate for electricity generation in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) and potential integration of a MFC into an anaerobic biofiltration system.
Thesis DisciplineChemical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Engineering
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are emerging energy production technology which converts the chemical energy stored in biologically degradable compounds to electricity at high efficiencies. Microbial fuel cells have some advantages such as use of an inexpensive catalyst, operate under mild reaction conditions (i.e. ambient temperature, normal pressure and neutral pH), and generate power from a wide range and cheap raw materials. These make microbial fuel cell as an attractive alternative over other electricity generating devices. However, so far the major problem posses by this technology is the low power outputs of the microbial fuel cells that hinder its commercialization. Restriction in the electron transfer from bacteria to the anode electrode of a MFC is thought to be one cause for the low power output.
Most recent MFC research is focused on using contaminants present in industrial, agricultural, and municipal wastewater as the energy source, with very few studies utilising gaseous substrates. Mediators can be added to MFCs to enhance the electron transfer from the microbe to the anode, but have limited practical applicability in wastewater applications because of the difficulty in recovering the expensive and potentially toxic compound. This thesis describes an investigation of electricity generation in a microbial fuel cell by combining a gaseous substrate with a mediator in the anode compartment. The emphasis being placed on the selection of a mediator to improve the electron transfer process for electricity production in an MFC. Subsequently, methods to improve the performance of a mediator MFC in respect of power and current density were discussed. This type of MFC is purposely aimed to be applied for treating gaseous contaminants in an anaerobic biofilter while simultaneously produce electricity. In this study, ethanol was the first gaseous substrate tested for the possibility to generate electricity in the MFC. Various mediators were previously compared in their reversibility of redox reactions and in the current production, and three best mediators were then selected for the power production. The highest electrical current production i.e. 12 μA/cm2 was obtained and sustained for 24 hrs with N,N,N',N'-tetramethyl-1,4- phenylendiamine TMPD (N-TMPD) as the mediator using glassy carbon (GC) electrode. The maximum power density reached 0.16 mW/cm2 by using carbon cloth (CC) anode. The absorption of these mediators by the bacterial cells was shown to correlate with the obtained energy production, with no N-TMPD was absorbed by the bacterial cells. The 24 hr current production was shown to be accompanied by the decrease in the ethanol concentration (i.e. 1.82 g/L), however ethanol crossover through the proton exchange membrane and ethanol evaporation around the electrodes were most likely to be the major cause of the decrease in the ethanol concentration. A theoretical coulombic efficiency of 0.005% was calculated for this system.
The electrokinetics of microbial reduced mediator in the ethanol-mediator MFCs was also examined. Two methods i.e. linear sweep voltammetry (LSV) and cyclic voltammetry (CV) were used to obtained the kinetic parameters. CV method gave a better estimation of the kinetic parameters than LSV method due to the low concentration of the mediators used, affecting the Tafel behaviors. All CVs showed quasi-reversible behaviors compared to the CVs in the absence of the bacteria, which is thought due to the bacteria decreased the amount of the reduced and the oxidised mediator available at the surface of GC electrode. The highest exchange current density (i o ) was obtained by using N-TMPD as the mediator with the same concentration of the mediator used i.e. 0.13±0.01 mA/cm 2. The power output achieved also the highest (0.008 mW/cm 2) with N-TMPD as the mediator. The power density was improved to 0.03 mW/cm2 by using CC electrode. Another main objective of this thesis is to prove anoxic methane oxidation which was believed to occur only in marine sediments, and applies this for power generation in microbial fuel cells. Ferricyanide looked promising when it was used as the electron acceptor (thus as the mediator for the MFC). It was shown that ferricyanide was fully reduced by methanotrophs bacteria with methane as the substrate (versus abiotic and nitrogen control). The highest reduction rate achieved was 3 x10-3 mM/min.g. This finding was supported by ferricyanide peak heights disappearance (spectrophotometry at 420 nm), CO 2 production (sensor readings), ferrocyanide formation (cyclic voltammetry), and no other alternate electron acceptor was present. The total CO 2 produced was equal to 0.015 mmoles of CO 2 from starting concentration ferricyanide of 0.2 mmoles (after substraction with an offset value). CV results show 2.4 mM of ferrocyanide was produced after a total addition of 3 mM ferricyanide into the anoxic methanotrophic suspension. The current and voltage generation in microbial fuel cell reactor from the reduced ferricyanide confirmed that ferricyanide received electrons from the bacterial metabolism. The maximum power density of 0.02 mW/cm2 and OCV of 0.6 V were obtained with 3 mM ferricyanide using LSV method.