Nitrogen removal in a single-chamber microbial fuel cell with nitrifying biofilm enriched at the air cathode

Hengjing Yan, Tomonori Saito, John M. Regan

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128 Scopus citations


Nitrogen removal is needed in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) for the treatment of most waste streams. Current designs couple biological denitrification with side-stream or combined nitrification sustained by upstream or direct aeration, which negates some of the energy-saving benefits of MFC technology. To achieve simultaneous nitrification and denitrification, without extra energy input for aeration, the air cathode of a single-chamber MFC was pre-enriched with a nitrifying biofilm. Diethylamine-functionalized polymer (DEA) was used as the Pt catalyst binder on the cathode to improve the differential nitrifying biofilm establishment. With pre-enriched nitrifying biofilm, MFCs with the DEA binder had an ammonia removal efficiency of up to 96.8% and a maximum power density of 900 ± 25 mW/m 2, compared to 90.7% and 945 ± 42 mW/m 2 with a Nafion binder. A control with Nafion that lacked nitrifier pre-enrichment removed less ammonia and had lower power production (54.5% initially, 750 mW/m 2). The nitrifying biofilm MFCs had lower Coulombic efficiencies (up to 27%) than the control reactor (up to 36%). The maximum total nitrogen removal efficiency reached 93.9% for MFCs with the DEA binder. The DEA binder accelerated nitrifier biofilm enrichment on the cathode, and enhanced system stability. These results demonstrated that with proper cathode pre-enrichment it is possible to simultaneously remove organics and ammonia in a single-chamber MFC without supplemental aeration. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2215-2224
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): KUS-I1-003-13
Acknowledgements: This research 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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