Highly saline solutions were examined as alternatives to chemical buffers in microbial fuel cells (MFCs). The performance of two-chamber MFCs with different concentrations of saline solutions in the cathode chamber was compared to those with a buffered catholyte (50mM PBS). The use of a NaCl catholyte improved the CE to 43-60% (28% with no membrane) due to a reduction in oxygen transfer into the anolyte. The saline catholyte also reduced the membrane and solution resistance to 23Ω (41Ω without a membrane). The maximum power density of 491mW/m2 (240mM NaCl) was only 17% less than the MFC with 50mM PBS. The decrease in power output with highest salinity was due to reduced proton transfer due to the ion exchange membrane, and pH changes in the two solutions. These results show that MFC performance can be improved by using a saline catholyte without pH control. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.