A Novel Microbial Fuel Cell Reactor Design For Drinking Water Treatment

EPA Grant Number: SU835305
Title: A Novel Microbial Fuel Cell Reactor Design For Drinking Water Treatment
Investigators: Kilduff, James E. , Baveye, Philippe , Gadhamshetty, Venkataramana
Current Investigators: Kilduff, James E. , Baveye, Philippe , Belanger, Derek , Fishbach, Kelly , Gadhamshetty, Venkataramana , Hynes Maginn, Anne Patricia , Krishnamurthy, Ajay , Solina, Brent
Institution: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $14,418
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The major objective of this proposal is to design and develop a novel tubular microbial fuel cell (MFC)-based water treatment system that purifies natural water by reducing oxidized contaminants (e.g. nitrate and perchlorate). The modular MFC-module can be stacked in series and parallel combinations, and can simultaneously treat organic streams and produce potable water, all with the net-production of clean electricity. Specific objectives include: (i) design and develop an MFC-module that integrates the anode and the cathode in a concentric tubular assembly to minimize ohmic losses and reduce the reactor foot-print, (ii) explore novel lightweight and high electrical conductivity nanocomposite cathodes (composed of meso-pores) that are ideally suited for microbial colonization and contaminant immobilization (iii) perform electrochemical impedance spectroscopy to pinpoint the major electrochemical factors affecting reduction kinetics of aqueous contaminants, and iv) identify the optimum stack-parameters that deliver maximum current densities.


Perchlorate, having a Drinking Water Health Advisory of 15 μg/L, will be used as a model drinking water contaminant. Organic waste streams in the anode-compartment will provide a constant supply of electrons to sustain reduction of aqueous contaminants in the cathode-compartment. Contaminated water will continuously pass over the cathode where autotrophic microbial catalysts facilitate bioelectrochemical reduction of aqueous contaminants. We will use nanocomposite electrodes with high conductivity (1000 S/m) and large surface area (2630 m2/g) to achieve enhanced electrochemical oxidation of the organic-matter, and faster electrochemical reduction kinetics of oxidized contaminants in natural waters, in the MFC-module. Further, we will couple the MFC-modules with gravity-fed, slow-sand filtration (SSF) to eliminate natural organic matter (NOM), and microbes potentially sloughed from the MFC.

Expected Results:

We will develop and demonstrate a prototype system that couples microbial fuel cells with slow sand filtration, treats oxidized contaminants in natural waters, and produces potable water that meets EPA standards. The proposed treatment technology will have the capacity to purify water containing a range of contaminants amenable to microbially-catalyzed reduction and/or removable by slow sand filtration, in a sustainable, energy neutral, fashion.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 9 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Drinking water, sustainable, perchlorate reduction, microbial fuel cells, bioelectrochemical process

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report