Assessment of four different cathode materials at different initial pHs using unbuffered catholytes in microbial electrolysis cells

Edgar Ribot-Llobet, Joo-Youn Nam, Justin C. Tokash, Albert Guisasola, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Nickel foam (NF), stainless steel wool (SSW), platinum coated stainless steel mesh (Pt), and molybdenum disulfide coated stainless steel mesh (MoS 2) electrodes have been proposed as catalysts for hydrogen gas production, but previous tests have primarily examined their performance in well buffered solutions. These materials were compared using two-chamber microbial electrolysis cells (MECs), and linear sweep voltammetry (LSV) in unbuffered saline solutions at two different initial pHs (7 and 12). There was generally no appreciable effect of initial pH on production rates or total gas production. NF produced hydrogen gas at a rate of 1.1 m3 H2/m 3·d, which was only slightly less than that using Pt (1.4 m3 H2/m3·d), but larger than that obtained with SSW (0.52 m3 H2/m3·d) or MoS2 (0.67 m3 H2/m3·d). Overall hydrogen gas recoveries with SSW (29.7 ± 0.5 mL), MoS2 (28.6 ± 1.3 mL) and NF (32.4 ± 2 mL) were only slightly less than that of Pt (37.9 ± 0.5 mL). Total energy recoveries, based on the gas produced versus electrical energy input, ranged from 0.75 ± 0.02 for Pt, to 0.55 ± 0.02 for SSW. An LSV analysis showed no effect of pH for NF and Pt, but overpotentials were reduced for MoS2 and SSW by using an initial lower pH. At cathode potentials more negative than -0.85 V (vs Ag/AgCl), NF had lower overpotentials than the MoS2. These results provide the first assessment of these materials under practical conditions of high pH in unbuffered saline catholytes, and position NF as the most promising inexpensive alternative to Pt.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2951-2956
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Hydrogen Energy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): KUS-I1-003-13
Acknowledgements: This work was supported by Award KUS-I1-003-13 from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
This publication acknowledges KAUST support, but has no KAUST affiliated authors.


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