Electricity Generation From Anaerobic Wastewater Treatment in Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs)

EPA Contract Number: EPD09022
Title: Electricity Generation From Anaerobic Wastewater Treatment in Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs)
Investigators: Curtis, Michael D.
Small Business: Fuss & O’Neill
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: February 1, 2009 through August 31, 2009
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Water and Wastewater


Municipal wastewater treatment plants represent a huge energy ‘sink’ in the United States. Estimates are that these plants consume up to 3 percent of the total amount of power consumed annually. Ironically, the wastewater is concentrated with materials (carbohydrates) which inherently are high energy compounds. Novel research with Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) technology has demonstrated an ability to extract this chemical energy contained in wastewater and convert it to electrical power. Chemical energy extracted from wastewater carbohydrates has the potential, in theory, to convert wastewater treatment plants from huge power users to sources of electrical power. This effort is proposed to bring to market MFC technology which could have a radically positive effect on a huge energy-consuming industry in the U.S. and the world.

Fuss & O’Neill, using engineering research conducted at the University of Connecticut (UConn), will demonstrate the feasibility of an innovative approach to achieve three of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) goals for wastewater facilities: reducing energy requirements, better managing energy use, and the cost-effective production and recovery of renewable energy (green power) (under the EPA SBIR Solicitation Category E). Fuss & O’Neill’s SBIR Phase I project will successfully apply the fundamental mechanisms of MFC technology to wastewater treatment, which is believed to have a revolutionary significance for the wastewater industry. This technology has the potential to generate sufficient power to operate a host treatment facility without adding or requiring additional energy. In short, it would have the potential to achieve environmental goals in an energy self-sufficient manner.

Ongoing MFC research at UConn has demonstrated that electrical power is produced as renewable energy through the contaminant removal in wastewater treatment without adding extra chemical catalysts. This holds a great promise of transforming wastewater treatment facilities into green power plants. The 16,000 public wastewater treatment systems in the United States account for approximately 2-3% of the nation’s electric load. As population grows and environmental requirements become more stringent, the demand for energy in water and wastewater is expected to grow by up to 20% during the next 15 years. Developing new approaches to reduce energy consumption in wastewater treatment systems is critical for environmental sustainability. Bioelectricity generation in MFCs is a promising solution, since it utilizes anaerobic bacteria to convert contaminants in wastewater to electricity. It is expected that the energy contained in wastewater nationwide can meet the requirements of more than 100 million people.

MCFs treating wastewater will be a significant step toward environmental sustainability in the New England area.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 2 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

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

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, wastewater treatment, wastewater, microbial fuel cell technology, fuel cell, MFC chemical energy, electric power, renewable energy, green power, contaminant removal, environmental sustainability, bioelectricity generation, anaerobic bacteria,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • SBIR Phase II:

    Development and Commercialization of Granular Activated Carbon Microbial Fuel Cells for Wastewater Treatment and Power Generation