Reviews in Environmental Science and Bio/Technology

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 543–578 | Cite as

Continuous and scalable applications of microbial fuel cells: a critical review

  • Mohamed AbdallahEmail author
  • Sainab Feroz
  • Sama Alani
  • Enas Taha Sayed
  • Abdallah Shanableh
Review Paper


The depletion of conventional energy sources has motivated countries to shift towards renewable and eco-friendly sources of energy. One of the major global energy consumers is wastewater treatment facilities, particularly biological processes. The microbial fuel cell (MFC) is an emerging biotechnology that has been proven to be able to treat a wide range of wastewaters while generating electricity. However, after two decades of extensive research, the MFC technology remains mostly trapped in laboratory experimentations studying its performance and potential improvements. Moving towards the commercialization of MFC technology, multiple studies have focused on its actual performance under realistic conditions, i.e., large-scale continuous operation. Scaling up MFCs has been tested by increasing the unit size, stacking individual cells, and/or using multiple electrodes. As more research had been carried out in this area, the aim of the present article is to review the various designs and configurations of continuous scaled-up experiments from treatment, power generation, and applicability perspectives. This review compiles more than one hundred research studies on continuous scalable MFCs. The key operation parameters, including the hydraulic retention time and organic loading rate, are thoroughly discussed to obtain practical optimum ranges in comparison to conventional treatment processes. The various scaled-up cell materials and configurations are analyzed and correlated to their reported performance. Design guidelines for process variables and system components/configurations are suggested, and relevant research gaps and challenges are identified.


Microbial fuel cells Design guidelines Continuous operation Scale-up Wastewater treatment Electricity generation 

List of symbols


Activated carbon


Anion exchange membrane


Biological aerated filter


Biological oxygen demand


Current density


Columbic efficiency


Cloth electrode assembly


Cation exchange membrane


Chemical oxygen demand


Extended aeration activated sludge


Granular activated carbon


Hydraulic retention time


Multi anode/cathode


Membrane bioreactor


Membrane electrode assembly


Multi electrode microbial fuel cell


Microbial fuel cell


Membrane-less microbial fuel cell


Open circuit voltage


Organic loading rate


Power density


Maximum power density


Proton exchange membrane


External resistance


Internal resistance


Soluble chemical oxygen demand


Sequencing batch reactor


Separator electrode assembly


Stacked microbial fuel cell


Total nitrogen


Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket


Upflow microbial fuel cell


Volatile fatty acids


Wastewater treatment plant



This work was funded through the University of Sharjah research Grant No. 1702040177-P.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11157_2019_9508_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 22 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of SharjahSharjahUnited Arab Emirates
  2. 2.Department of Chemical EngineeringMinia UniversityMiniaEgypt

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