Development of Micro-sized Microbial Fuel Cells as Ultra-Low Power Generators Using Nano-engineered Materials and Sustainable Designs

  • Justine E. Mink

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Many of the most pressing global challenges today and in the future center around the scarcity of sustainable energy and water sources. The innovative microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology addresses both as it utilizes bacteria to convert wastewaters into electricity. Advancing this technology requires a better understanding of the optimal materials, designs and conditions involved. The micro-sized MFC was recently developed to serve this need by providing a rapid testing device requiring only a fraction of the materials. Further, development of micro-liter scale MFCs has expanded into potential applications such as remote and self-sustained power sources as well as on-chip energy generators. By using microfabrication, the fabrication and assembly of microsized MFCs is potentially inexpensive and mass produced. The objective of the work within this dissertation was to explore and optimize the micro-sized MFC to maximize power and current generation towards the goal of a usable and application-oriented device. Micro-sized MFCs were examined and developed using four parameters/themes considered most important in producing a high power generating, yet usable device: Anode- The use of nano-engineered carbon nanomaterials, carbon nanotubes and graphene, as anode as well as testing semiconductor industry standard anode contact area materials for enhanced current production. 5 Cathode- The introduction of a membrane-less air cathode to eliminate the need for continuous chemical refills and making the entire device mobile. Reactor design- The testing of four different reactor designs (1-75 μLs) with various features intended to increase sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and usability of the microsized MFC. Fuels- The utilization of real-world fuels, such as industrial wastewaters and saliva, to power micro-sized MFCs. The micro-sized MFC can be tailored to fit a variety of applications by varying these parameters. The device with the highest power production here was designed to be an inexpensive and robust power source in applications like point-of-care diagnostics in developing countries. This 25 μL graphene nanomaterial anode, air cathode device in an inexpensive flexible rubber architecture was powered by saliva and achieved 3.55 μW/cm2 and 35.2 W/m3. The continued optimization of MFC technology promises many interesting and innovative applications.
Date of AwardDec 2013
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorMuhammad Mustafa Hussain (Supervisor)


  • Microbial Fuel Cell
  • nanotechnology
  • Micro-sized
  • Graphene
  • energy harvester

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