Multi‐functional microbial fuel cells for power, treatment and electro‐osmotic purification of urine

Iwona Gajda*, John Greenman, Carlo Santoro, Alexey Serov, Plamen Atanassov, Christopher R Melhuish, Ioannis Ieropoulos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: In this work, a small-scale ceramic microbial fuel cell (MFC) with a novel type of metal–carbon-derived electrocatalyst containing iron and nicarbazin (Fe-NCB) was developed, to enhance electricity generation from neat human urine. Substrate oxidation at the anode provides energy for the separation of ions and recovery from urine without any chemical or external power additions.
RESULTS: The catalyst was shown to be effective in clear electrolyte synthesis of high pH, compared with a range of carbon-based metal-free materials. Polarisation curves of tested MFCs showed up to 53% improvement (44.8 W m−3) in performance with the use of Fe-NCB catalyst.Catholyte production rate and pH directly increased with power performance while the conductivity decreased showing visually clear extracted liquid in the best-performing MFCs.CONCLUSIONS: Iron based catalyst Fe-NCB was shown to be a suitable electrocatalyst for the air-breathing cathode, improving power production from urine-fed MFCs. The results suggest electrochemical treatment through electro-osmotic drag while the electricity is produced and not consumed. Electro-osmotic production of clear catholyte is shown to extract water from urine against osmotic pressure. Recovering valuable resources from urine would help to transform energy intensive treatments to resource production, and will create opportunities for new technology development.© 2018 The Authors.Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society of Chemical Industry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2098-2106
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology
Issue number7
Early online date6 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • microbial fuel cell
  • urine
  • terracotta membrane
  • electro‐osmosis
  • Fe‐NCB catalyst
  • miniaturisation


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