Development of cost-effective and sustainable microbial fuel cells for water quality monitoring

  • Jon Chouler

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The sustainable provision of clean and secure water is one of the biggest challenges the global population is currently faced with. To ensure access to clean water, the control and monitoring of contaminants released into water systems is critical, and thus effective water quality monitoring methods that are low cost, rapid, simple to use and have onsite capability are needed. Recently, the microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology has shown great promise as a real time sensing tool. The aim of this thesis is to design and develop cost-effective and sustainable MFC biosensors for the straightforward and rapid assessment of water quality. First, a single chamber miniature (128 μL) MFC was developed. The effect of electrode length and spacing on its power performance was assessed. Moreover, the improvement of current generation by electrically stacking the MFCs was demonstrated. The use of various low cost materials for MFC production was then investigated. Natural and synthetic membrane materials (eggshell membrane and polydimethylsiloxane) were used to replace the commonly used and expensive Nafion membrane. Then the use of biomass derived oxygen reduction reaction catalysts at the cathode to improve baseline current was studied. The ability of this miniature MFCdevice to detect the labile organic carbon content, and the presence of formaldehyde (as a model toxicant) and atrazine was then demonstrated. Next, an innovative and extremely cheap (£0.43 per unit), portable, screen-printed, paper-based MFC was created for the purpose of water quality monitoring indeveloping countries. Additionally, the use of microalgae as an alternative biorecognition element at the miniature MFC anode was investigated, with the purpose to enhance the sensitivity towards trace organic compound pollutants. To this end, a miniature photosynthetic MFC biosensor was developed. The ability of both these innovative devices to detect formaldehyde in water, thus providing a proof of concept for their use as water quality monitoring biosensors, was then studied.To conclude, this thesis demonstrates the development of a miniature single chamber MFC that uses sustainable and cost-effective materials and provides investigations for its potential as a powerful water quality monitoring tool. Also, for the first time, the biosensing capability of an innovative paper-based MFC and photosynthetic MFC are demonstrated.
Date of Award31 Jan 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMirella Di Lorenzo (Supervisor) & Petra Cameron (Supervisor)

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