Scaling up microbial fuel cells (MFCs) requires a better understanding the importance of the different factors such as electrode surface area and reactor geometry relative to solution conditions such as conductivity and substrate concentration. It is shown here that the substrate concentration has significant effect on anode but not cathode performance, while the solution conductivity has a significant effect on the cathode but not the anode. The cathode surface area is always important for increasing power. Doubling the cathode size can increase power by 62% with domestic wastewater, but doubling the anode size increases power by 12%. Volumetric power density was shown to be a linear function of cathode specific surface area (ratio of cathode surface area to reactor volume), but the impact of cathode size on power generation depended on the substrate strength (COD) and conductivity. These results demonstrate the cathode specific surface area is the most critical factor for scaling-up MFCs to obtain high power densities. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.