Bioprocess and Biosystems Engineering

, Volume 41, Issue 11, pp 1635–1649 | Cite as

Biodegradation of surrogate naphthenic acids and electricity generation in microbial fuel cells: bioelectrochemical and microbial characterizations

  • Guadalupe Montserrat Valdes Labrada
  • Mehdi NematiEmail author
Research Paper


Waters contaminated with naphthenic acids (NAs) and associated tailings are one of the major environmental challenges associated with the processing of oil sands and production of heavy oil. In the current work biodegradation of linear and cyclic naphthenic acids, namely octanoic acid and 4-methyl-1-cyclohexane carboxylic acid (trans-4MCHCA), individually and in mixture were evaluated in microbial fuel cells (MFCs). In batch MFCs with single rod electrodes and freely suspended bacteria, biodegradation rate increased as NA initial concentration increased from 100 to 250 mg L−1 with no further improvement when a concentration of 500 mg L−1 was evaluated. During the co-biodegradation, diauxic microbial growth and preferential use of octanoic acid were observed. Moreover, the presence of octanoic acid enhanced the biodegradation of trans-4MCHCA. In the continuous flow MFCs with granular graphite electrodes and biofilm, increases in NA concentration and loading rate led to higher biodegradation rates and improvement of electrochemical output. Furthermore, MFC operated with octanoic acid outperformed its counterpart that was fed with trans-4MCHCA, with the maximum biodegradation rate, current and power densities for octanoic acid and trans-4MCHCA being 49.9 and 36.5 mg L−1 h−1, 6000.0 and 4296.3 mA m−3, and 963.0 and 481.5 mW m−3, respectively. Co-biodegradation of NAs in continuous flow MFCs with biofilm acclimated to octanoic acid or trans-4MCHCA revealed development of distinctly different microbial communities, simultaneous biodegradation of NAs albeit at faster rates for octanoic acid, and superior performance of MFC with the biofilm developed with trans-4MCHCA.


Oil sands Naphthenic acids Co-biodegradation Microbial fuel cell Microbial diversity Biokinetics 



This work was supported by a Discovery Grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guadalupe Montserrat Valdes Labrada
    • 1
  • Mehdi Nemati
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Chemical and Biological EngineeringUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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