Microbial fuel cell cleans wastewater

Researchers from King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia optimized microbial fuel cells to work with seafood processing industrial wastewater, in order to both treat the water and generate electricity.

Marine ecosystems provide 17% of edible meat, and yet are extremely fragile and can suffer greatly from pollution and toxic waste. It is therefore vital that the world discovers novel and more effective ways for treating wastewater, which is one of the most impactful pollutants that finds its way to the sea.

Wastewater treatment systems are unfortunately suffering from many limitations: they are highly complex, expensive to operate, and utilize themselves chemicals that may be harmful to the environment.

These limitations become even more discouraging when one realized the extent of the pollution phenomenon. In Saudi Arabia alone, consumption of fish per person per year increased from 8 kg in 2007 to over 20 kg in 2018. The country is also exporting fish and seafood products to the European Union, Japan and the United States. The seafood processing industry in Saudi Arabia generates enormous amount of wastewater, which contains blood and intestinal remains.

One of the most promising technologies discussed today as a way to treat wastewater, is that of microbial fuel cell (MFC). Microbial fuel cells are based on electrochemically active bacteria that can transmit electrons between the anode and cathode in the fuel cell, while thriving on and degrading organic material in the wastewater streamed into the device.

A schematic of a microbial fuel cell. Source

Fuel cells of this sort have experienced a surge in their development and implementation, as understanding of their various components – including electrodes, bacterial colonies and reactor configurations – increased.

Researchers from King Abdulaziz University and SungKyunKwan University, in collaboration with University of Tamil Nadu, recently conducted research on the treatment of wastewater – especially one originating from the seafood processing industry. The lead author, Arulazhagan Pugazhendi, collected seafood processing industrial wastewater, and optimized a microbial fuel cells to fit the bacteria needs.

The microbial fuel cell was tested at room temperature for nearly three months, during which it operated with wastewater containing different loads of organic matter. The fuel cell performance was evaluated in regards to its removal efficiency of organic waste, and electricity production level.

The researchers identified the best conditions for the fuel cell operation, and managed to reach maximum power density of 530 mW/m^2. They also identified the most effective bacterial strains fitting for the degradation of organic matter in the fuel cell.

Hopefully, research work like this one will lead to the development of more efficient microbial fuel cells, which can play an important part in cleaning the environment.

Original content by Nawartna

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