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An Experimental Study of Microbial Fuel Cells for Electricity Generating: Performance Characterization and Capacity Improvement

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DOI: 10.4236/jsbs.2013.33024    5,385 Downloads   9,727 Views   Citations
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ABSTRACT

This paper studies the electricity generating capacity of microbial fuel cells (MFCs). Unlike most of MFC research, which targets the long term goals of renewable energy production and wastewater treatment, this paper considers a niche application that may be used immediately in practice, namely powering sensors from soils or sediments. There are two major goals in this study. The first goal is to examine the performance characteristics of MFCs in this application. Specifically we investigate the relationship between the percentage of organic matter in a sample and the electrical capacity of MFCs fueled by that sample. We observe that higher percentage of organic matter in a sample results in higher electricity production of MFCs powered by that sample. We measure the thermal limits that dictate the temperature range in which MFCs can function, and confirm that the upper thermal limit is 40℃. The new observation is that the lower thermal limit is -5℃, which is lower than 0℃ reported in the literature. This difference is important for powering environmental sensors. We observe that the electricity production of MFCs decreases almost linearly over a period of 10 days. The second goal is to determine the conditions under which MFCs work most efficiently to generate electricity. We compare the capacity under a variety of conditions of sample types (benthic mud, top soil, and marsh samples), temperatures (0℃, 40℃, and room temperature), and sample sizes (measuring 3.5 cm × 3.5 cm × 4.6 cm, 10.2 cm × 10.2 cm × 13.4 cm, and 2.7 cm × 2.7 cm × 3.8 cm), and find that the electricity capacity is greatest at 0℃, powered by benthic mud sample with the largest chamber size. What seems surprising is that 0℃ outperforms both room temperature and benthic mud sample outperforms marsh sample, which appears to be richer in organic matter. In addition, we notice that although the largest chamber size produces the greatest capacity, it suffers from efficiency loss. The reasons of these observations will be explained in the paper. The study demonstrates that the electricity production of MFCs can be increased by selecting the right condition of sample type, temperature, and chamber size.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Cite this paper

J. Li, "An Experimental Study of Microbial Fuel Cells for Electricity Generating: Performance Characterization and Capacity Improvement," Journal of Sustainable Bioenergy Systems, Vol. 3 No. 3, 2013, pp. 171-178. doi: 10.4236/jsbs.2013.33024.

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