The traditional 5-day test of the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5 test) has many disadvantages, and principally it is unsuitable for process control and real-time monitoring. As an alternative, a single-chamber microbial fuel cell (SCMFC) with an air cathode was tested as a biosensor and the performance analysed in terms of its measurement range, its response time, its reproducibility and its operational stability. When artificial wastewater was used as fuel, the biosensor output had a linear relationship with the BOD concentration up to 350 mg BOD cm−3; very high reproducibility; and stability over 7 months of operation.
The system was further improved by reducing by 75% the total anolyte volume. In this way a response time close to the hydraulic retention time (HRT) of the biosensor (i.e. 40 min) was reached. When the small volume SCMFC biosensor was fed with real wastewater a good correlation between COD concentration and current output was obtained, demonstrating the applicability of this system to real effluents. The measurements obtained with the biosensor were also in accordance with values obtained with standard measurement methods.