Sustainable design of high-performance microsized microbial fuel cell with carbon nanotube anode and air cathode

Justine E. Mink, Muhammad Mustafa Hussain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are a promising alternative energy source that both generates electricity and cleans water. Fueled by liquid wastes such as wastewater or industrial wastes, the microbial fuel cell converts waste into energy. Microsized MFCs are essentially miniature energy harvesters that can be used to power on-chip electronics, lab-on-a-chip devices, and/or sensors. As MFCs are a relatively new technology, microsized MFCs are also an important rapid testing platform for the comparison and introduction of new conditions or materials into macroscale MFCs, especially nanoscale materials that have high potential for enhanced power production. Here we report a 75 μL microsized MFC on silicon using CMOS-compatible processes and employ a novel nanomaterial with exceptional electrochemical properties, multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), as the on-chip anode. We used this device to compare the usage of the more commonly used but highly expensive anode material gold, as well as a more inexpensive substitute, nickel. This is the first anode material study done using the most sustainably designed microsized MFC to date, which utilizes ambient oxygen as the electron acceptor with an air cathode instead of the chemical ferricyanide and without a membrane. Ferricyanide is unsustainable, as the chemical must be continuously refilled, while using oxygen, naturally found in air, makes the device mobile and is a key step in commercializing this for portable technology such as lab-on-a-chip for point-of-care diagnostics. At 880 mA/m2 and 19 mW/m2 the MWCNT anode outperformed the others in both current and power densities with between 6 and 20 times better performance. All devices were run for over 15 days, indicating a stable and high-endurance energy harvester already capable of producing enough power for ultra-low-power electronics and able to consistently power them over time. © 2013 American Chemical Society.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6921-6927
Number of pages7
JournalACS Nano
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 8 2013

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Professor Bruce Logan at Penn State University for useful discussions, Professor Gary Amy at KAUST for laboratory use at the Water Desalination and Reuse Center, Jhonathan Prieto Rojas and Rami Qaisi for fabrication assistance, and Mariyam Mahmoud and Shaiza Sin ha from the MUST schools for photographs. This work has been possible with the generous Baseline Research Funding provided by KAUST and GRP Collaborative Fellow (GRP-CF-2011-03-S) grant for J.E.M.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering


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