Surface-to-surface biofilm transfer: a quick and reliable startup strategy for mixed culture microbial fuel cells

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The startup of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) is known to be prone to failure or result in erratic performance impeding the research. The aim of this study was to advise a quick launch strategy for laboratory-scale MFCs that ensures steady operation performance in a short period of time. Different startup strategies were investigated and compared with membraneless single chamber MFCs. A direct surface-to-surface biofilm transfer (BFT) in an operating MFC proved to be the most efficient method. It provided steady power densities of 163 ± 13 mWm−2 4 days after inoculation compared to 58 ± 15 mWm−2 after 30 days following a conventional inoculation approach. The in situ BFT eliminates the need for microbial acclimation during startup and reduces performance fluctuations caused by shifts in microbial biodiversity. Anaerobic pretreatment of the substrate and addition of suspended enzymes from an operating MFC into the new MFC proved to have a beneficial effect on startup and subsequent operation. Polarization methods were applied to characterize the startup phase and the steady state operation in terms of power densities, internal resistance and power overshoot during biofilm maturation. Applying this method a well-working MFC can be multiplied into an array of identically performing MFCs.

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