A microbial fuel cell mimics a biological system, in which bacteria do not directly transfer the energy-rich electrons gained out of the feeding to their characteristic electron acceptor. Instead, the electrons are diverted towards an electrode (anode) and subsequently conducted over a resistance or power user, and a cathode (see figure). At the cathode, these electrons are used to reduce oxygen with the formation of water. This way, bacterial energy is directly converted to electrical energy.
Microbial fuel cells have so far known limited success because of the low output observed. The maximum attainable potential over a biofuel cell, based on the potential difference between the redox couple, is 1.15V. However, the real fuel cell potential is mostly lower due to the potential losses observed at both the anode and the cathode, and the internal resistance of the fuel cell. Lowering these losses at the anode can be obtained chemically through enlargement of the specific electrode surface or the use of redox mediators, and biologically by the selection of adapted bacteria.
The internal resistance is mainly caused by the resistance of the electrolytes and of the proton exchange membrane (PEM), and can be lowered by increasing the reactor turbulence and the electrolyte/PEM conductivity.
Korneel RABAEY | alfa
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