Bruno Allard


1 Microbial Fuel Cells: Performance and Applications

Authors: Andrea Pietrelli, Vincenzo Ferrara, Bruno Allard, Francois Buret, Irene Bavasso, Nicola Lovecchio, Francesca Costantini, Firas Khaled


This paper aims to show some applications of microbial fuel cells (MFCs), an energy harvesting technique, as clean power source to supply low power device for application like wireless sensor network (WSN) for environmental monitoring. Furthermore, MFC can be used directly as biosensor to analyse parameters like pH and temperature or arranged in form of cluster devices in order to use as small power plant. An MFC is a bioreactor that converts energy stored in chemical bonds of organic matter into electrical energy, through a series of reactions catalysed by microorganisms. We have developed a lab-scale terrestrial microbial fuel cell (TMFC), based on soil that acts as source of bacteria and flow of nutrient and a lab-scale waste water microbial fuel cell (WWMFC), where waste water acts as flow of nutrient and bacteria. We performed large series of tests to exploit the capability as biosensor. The pH value has strong influence on the open circuit voltage (OCV) delivered from TMFCs. We analyzed three condition: test A and B were filled with same soil but changing pH from 6 to 6.63, test C was prepared using a different soil with a pH value of 6.3. Experimental results clearly show how with higher pH value a higher OCV was produced; indeed reactors are influenced by different values of pH which increases the voltage in case of a higher pH value until the best pH value of 7 is achieved. The influence of pH on OCV of lab-scales WWMFC was analyzed at pH value of 6.5, 7, 7.2, 7.5 and 8. WWMFCs are influenced from temperature more than TMFCs. We tested the power performance of WWMFCs considering four imposed values of ambient temperature. Results show how power performance increase proportionally with higher temperature values, doubling the output power from 20° to 40°. The best value of power produced from our lab-scale TMFC was equal to 310 μW using peaty soil, at 1KΩ, corresponding to a current of 0.5 mA. A TMFC can supply proper energy to low power devices of a WSN by means of the design of three stages scheme of an energy management system, which adapts voltage level of TMFC to those required by a WSN node, as 3.3V. Using a commercial DC/DC boost converter, that needs an input voltage of 700 mV, the current source of 0.5 mA, charges a capacitor of 6.8 mF until it will have accumulated an amount of charge equal to 700 mV in a time of 10 s. The output stage includes an output switch that close the circuit after a time of 10s + 1.5ms because the converter can boost the voltage from 0.7V to 3.3V in 1.5 ms. Furthermore, we tested in form of clusters connected in series up to 20 WWMFCs, we have obtained a high voltage value as output, around 10V, but low current value. MFC can be considered a suitable clean energy source to be used to supply low power devices as a WSN node or to be used directly as biosensor.

Keywords: Energy harvesting, Wireless Sensor Network, microbial fuel cell, low power electronics, terrestrial microbial fuel cell, waste-water microbial fuel cell

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