A computational model for biofilm-based microbial fuel cells

Cristian Picioreanu*, Ian M. Head, Krishna Katuri, Mark C.M. van Loosdrecht, Keith Scott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

312 Scopus citations


This study describes and evaluates a computational model for microbial fuel cells (MFCs) based on redox mediators with several populations of suspended and attached biofilm microorganisms, and multiple dissolved chemical species. A number of biological, chemical and electrochemical reactions can occur in the bulk liquid, in the biofilm and at the electrode surface. The evolution in time of important MFC parameters (current, charge, voltage and power production, consumption of substrates, suspended and attached biomass growth) has been simulated under several operational conditions. Model calculations evaluated the effect of different substrate utilization yields, standard potential of the redox mediator, ratio of suspended to biofilm cells, initial substrate and mediator concentrations, mediator diffusivity, mass transfer boundary layer, external load resistance, endogenous metabolism, repeated substrate additions and competition between different microbial groups in the biofilm. Two- and three-dimensional model simulations revealed the heterogeneous current distribution over the planar anode surface for younger and patchy biofilms, but becoming uniform in older and more homogeneous biofilms. For uniformly flat biofilms one-dimensional models should give sufficiently accurate descriptions of produced currents. Voltage- and power-current characteristics can also be calculated at different moments in time to evaluate the limiting regime in which the MFC operates. Finally, the model predictions are tested with previously reported experimental data obtained in a batch MFC with a Geobacter biofilm fed with acetate. The potential of the general modeling framework presented here is in the understanding and design of more complex cases of wastewater-fed microbial fuel cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2921-2940
Number of pages20
JournalWater Research
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2007


  • Biofilm
  • Electricity
  • Mathematical model
  • Microbial fuel cell
  • Redox mediator

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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