Capturing power at higher voltages from arrays of microbial fuel cells without voltage reversal

Younggy Kim, Marta C. Hatzell, Adam J. Hutchinson, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations

Abstract

Voltages produced by microbial fuel cells (MFCs) cannot be sustainably increased by linking them in series due to voltage reversal, which substantially reduces stack voltages. It was shown here that MFC voltages can be increased with continuous power production using an electronic circuit containing two sets of multiple capacitors that were alternately charged and discharged (every one second). Capacitors were charged in parallel by the MFCs, but linked in series while discharging to the circuit load (resistor). The parallel charging of the capacitors avoided voltage reversal, while discharging the capacitors in series produced up to 2.5 V with four capacitors. There were negligible energy losses in the circuit compared to 20-40% losses typically obtained with MFCs using DC-DC converters to increase voltage. Coulombic efficiencies were 67% when power was generated via four capacitors, compared to only 38% when individual MFCs were operated with a fixed resistance of 250 Ω. The maximum power produced using the capacitors was not adversely affected by variable performance of the MFCs, showing that power generation can be maintained even if individual MFCs perform differently. Longer capacitor charging and discharging cycles of up to 4 min maintained the average power but increased peak power by up to 2.6 times. These results show that capacitors can be used to easily obtain higher voltages from MFCs, allowing for more useful capture of energy from arrays of MFCs. © 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4662
JournalEnergy & Environmental Science
Volume4
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

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