Research re-establishes power of microbial fuel cells for low-energy need applications

A research initiative has led to the development of a sustainable wastewater treatment system, among efforts to conserve valuable water. Developed by researchers at WSU, the process depends on electron-producing microbial clusters to purify water.

Coming down on the process, it has the potential to reduce dependency on energy-intensive processes someday. The ones that are used for circulation and treat wastewater, and account for as much as two percent of overall electrical energy consumption in the U.S.

The report of the research is published in the journal Bioelectrochemistry.

New finding offers benefits over long-used aeration for wastewater treatment

In fact, for wastewater treatment, aeration is an energy-intensive and required procedure to eliminate contaminants. During the process, pumps function non-stop to mix air into water, adding oxygen that is used by bacteria to oxidize organic matter and oxidants. Meanwhile, for the work, researchers used a unique microbial fuel cell system developed to substitute external aeration.

“According to published data, in the U.S., the cut in energy use even by a small percentage, amounts to billions of dollars in costs each year, said one of the researchers in the initiative. This also means reducing environmental emissions, added the researcher.

Function-wise, microbial fuel cells perform by microbial action to convert chemical energy into electricity in a way somewhat like a battery. In terms of output, the electricity generation is not much. As such, they find use in low-energy applications, mainly in remotely locations where batteries are not feasible.

Therefore, microbial fuel cells are suitable for wastewater treatment with limited power generation capability. Here, microbial fuel cells can fill the role played by aeration and oxygen – to accept electrons generated by bacteria as a product of their metabolic work.