The use of stainless steel and nickel alloys as low-cost cathodes in microbial electrolysis cells

Priscilla A. Selembo, Mathew D. Merrill, Bruce E. Logan

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278 Scopus citations


Microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) are used to produce hydrogen gas from the current generated by bacteria, but low-cost alternatives are needed to typical cathode materials (carbon cloth, platinum and Nafion™). Stainless steel A286 was superior to platinum sheet metal in terms of cathodic hydrogen recovery (61% vs. 47%), overall energy recovery (46% vs. 35%), and maximum volumetric hydrogen production rate (1.5 m3 m-3 day-1 vs. 0.68 m3 m-3 day-1) at an applied voltage of 0.9 V. Nickel 625 was better than other nickel alloys, but it did not perform as well as SS A625. The relative ranking of these materials in MEC tests was in agreement with cyclic voltammetry studies. Performance of the stainless steel and nickel cathodes was further increased, even at a lower applied voltage (0.6 V), by electrodepositing a nickel oxide layer onto the sheet metal (cathodic hydrogen recovery, 52%, overall energy recovery, 48%; maximum volumetric hydrogen production rate, 0.76 m3 m-3 day-1). However, performance of the nickel oxide cathodes decreased over time due to a reduction in mechanical stability of the oxides (based on SEM-EDS analysis). These results demonstrate that non-precious metal cathodes can be used in MECs to achieve hydrogen gas production rates better than those obtained with platinum. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-278
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Power Sources
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: The authors thank S. Cheng, D. Call, E. Lalaurette and D. Jones for assistance with MEC experiments, and J.M. Perez and W.A. Lloyd for their advice and insight. This research was supported in part by the Global Research Partnership (GRP) from KAUST University, the General Electric First-Year Faculty for the Future Fellowship and the Arthur and Elizabeth Rose Memorial Fellowship, and Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.
This publication acknowledges KAUST support, but has no KAUST affiliated authors.


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