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Open Access Research

The flat-plate plant-microbial fuel cell: the effect of a new design on internal resistances

Marjolein Helder1, David PBTB Strik1*, Hubertus VM Hamelers2 and Cees JN Buisman12

Author Affiliations

1 Wageningen University - Sub-department of environmental technology, PO box 17, Wageningen 6700 AA, The Netherlands

2 Wetsus– Centre of excellence for sustainable water technology, Agora 1, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2012, 5:70  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-5-70

Published: 21 September 2012

Abstract

Due to a growing world population and increasing welfare, energy demand worldwide is increasing. To meet the increasing energy demand in a sustainable way, new technologies are needed. The Plant-Microbial Fuel Cell (P-MFC) is a technology that could produce sustainable bio-electricity and help meeting the increasing energy demand. Power output of the P-MFC, however, needs to be increased to make it attractive as a renewable and sustainable energy source. To increase power output of the P-MFC internal resistances need to be reduced. With a flat-plate P-MFC design we tried to minimize internal resistances compared to the previously used tubular P-MFC design. With the flat-plate design current and power density per geometric planting area were increased (from 0.15 A/m2 to 1.6 A/m2 and from 0.22 W/m2 to and 0.44 W/m2)as were current and power output per volume (from 7.5 A/m3 to 122 A/m3 and from 1.3 W/m3 to 5.8 W/m3). Internal resistances times volume were decreased, even though internal resistances times membrane surface area were not. Since the membrane in the flat-plate design is placed vertically, membrane surface area per geometric planting area is increased, which allows for lower internal resistances times volume while not decreasing internal resistances times membrane surface area. Anode was split into three different sections on different depths of the system, allowing to calculate internal resistances on different depths. Most electricity was produced where internal resistances were lowest and where most roots were present; in the top section of the system. By measuring electricity production on different depths in the system, electricity production could be linked to root growth. This link offers opportunities for material-reduction in new designs. Concurrent reduction in material use and increase in power output brings the P-MFC a step closer to usable energy density and economic feasibility.

Keywords:
Plant-microbial fuel cell; Design; Flat-plate; Internal resistance; Root growth; Spartina anglica; Sustainable electricity