Microbial Fuel Cells in Solid Waste Valorization: Trends and Applications



In recent years, biomass valorization (and, in general, waste treatment) and FC technology met in the so-called bioelectrochemical systems (BESs). BESs take advantage of biological capacities (microbes, enzymes, plants) for the catalysis of electrochemical reactions. They mainly include micro-electrolysis Cell (MECs) and microbial fuel cells (MFCs). While MECs can produce valuable compounds (like H2, CH4, etc.), providing a suitable potential at the electrodes, MFCs do not need any energetic input to convert chemical energy (stored in organic compounds) into electric power. In this “biologically-based-fuel–cells,” the fuel is made by different sources of organic compounds. Landfill leachate, municipal and agro-industrial wastewaters, sediments, solid organic wastes can be source of electric power and commodity chemicals. The use of MFC technology to waste treatment and valorization is, maybe, the most promising application of this newborn technology. Even though many researchers proved the reliable utilization of liquid waste as fuel in scaled MFCs, few attempts to apply MFCs to solid waste valorization have been done. In this paper, recent studies about the application of MFCs to solid substrates treatment and valorization and the contribution that BESs and MFC in particular could give to the development of a more sustainable waste management.


Organic fraction of municipal solid waste Microbial fuel cell Waste treatment Waste-to-energy technology 


  1. Chandrasekhar K, Mohan SV (2014) Induced catabolic bio-electrohydrolysis of complex food waste by regulating external resistance for enhancing acidogenic biohydrogen production. Bioresour Technol 165:372–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chandrasekhar K, Lee Y, Lee D (2015) Biohydrogen production: strategies to improve process efficiency through microbial routes. Int J Mol Sci 16:8266–8293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Coates JD, Bhupathiraju VK, McInerney MI, Lovley DR, Achenbach LA (2001) Geobacter hydrogenophilus, geobacter chapellei and geobacter grbiciae, three new, strictly anaerobic, dissimilatory Fe(III)-reducers. Int J Syst Evol Micr 51:581–588Google Scholar
  4. Cummings DE, Caccavo F, Spring S, Rosenzweig F (1999) Ferribacterium limneticum, gen. nov., sp. Nov., an Fe (III) reducing microorganism isolated from mining-impacted freshwater lake sediments. Arch Microbiol 171(3):183–188Google Scholar
  5. Cusick Roland D, Kiely Patrick D, Logan Bruce E (2010) A monetary comparison of energy recovered from microbial fuel cells and microbial electrolysis cells fed winery or domestic wastewaters. Int J Hydrogen Energy 35:8855–8861CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. El-Chakhtoura J, El-Fadel M, Ananda Rao H, Ghanimeh S, Saikaly PE, Li D (2014) Electricity generation and microbial community structure of air-cathode microbial fuel cells powered with the organic fraction of municipal solid waste and inoculated with different seeds. Biomass Bioenergy 67(2014):24–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. El Mekawy A, Srikanth S, Bajracharya S, Hegab HM, Singh Nigam P, Singh A, Mohan SV, Pant D (2015) Food and agricultural wastes as substrates for bioelectrochemical system (BES): the synchronized recovery of sustainable energy and waste treatment. Food Res Int 73:213–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. European Commission (2013) Future brief: bioelectrochemical systems, wastewater treatment, bioenergy and valuable chemicals delivered by bacteria. Sci Environ Policy 5.
  9. Faaji A (2006) Modern biomass conversion technologies. Mitigation Adapt Strateg Glob Chang. doi:  10.1007/s11027-005-9004-7
  10. Faaij A, Hekkert M, Worrell E, van Wijk A (1998) Optimization of the final waste treatment system in the Netherlands. Resour Conserv Recy 22:47–82Google Scholar
  11. Favoino E, Hoggs D (2008) The potential role of compost in reducing greenhouse gases. Waste Manage Res 26(1):61–69Google Scholar
  12. Giusti L (2009) A review of waste management practices and their impact on human health. Waste Manag 29:2227–2239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Higgins SR, Lopez RJ, Pagaling E, Yan T, Cooney MJ (2013) Towards a hybrid anaerobic digester-microbial fuel cell integrated energy recovery system: an overview of the development of an electrogenic biofilm. Enzyme Microbial Technol 52:344–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ieropoulos I, Melhuish C, Greenman J, Horsfield I (2005) EcoBot-II: an artificial agent with a natural metabolism. Adv Robot Syst 2(4):295–300Google Scholar
  15. Ieropoulos IA, Papaharalabos G, Ledezma P, Melhuish C, Stinchcombe A, Greenman J (2013) Waste to real energy: the first MFC powered mobile phone. Phys Chem Chem Phys 15:15312–15316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jung SP, Yoon MH, Lee SM, Oh SE, Kang H, Yang JK (2014) Power generation and anode bacterial community compositions of sediment fuel cells differing in anode materials and carbon sources. Int J Electrochem Sci 9:315–326Google Scholar
  17. Karluvali A, Köroglu EO, Manav N, Çetinkaya Afs_in Y, Özkaya B (2015) Electricity generation from organic fraction of municipal solid wastes in tubular microbial fuel cell. Separ Purif Technol 156:502–511Google Scholar
  18. Logan BE, Regan JM (2006) Microbial fuel cells: challenges and applications. Environ Sci Technol 5172–5180Google Scholar
  19. Luo S, Sun H, Ping Q, Jin R, He Z (2016) A review of modeling bioelectrochemical systems: engineering and statistical aspects. Energies 9:111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mohan VS, Chandrasekhar K (2011) Solid phase microbial fuel cell (SMFC) for harnessing bioelectricity from composite food waste fermentation: influence of electrode assembly and buffering capacity. Bioresour Technol 102:7077–7085CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Montpart N, Rago L, Baeza JA, Guisasola A (2015) Hydrogen production in single chamber microbial electrolysis cells with different complex substrates. Water Res 68:601–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Morris JM, Jin S, Crimi B, Pruden A (2009) Microbial fuel cell in enhancing anaerobic biodegradation of diesel. Chem Eng J 146:161–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nastro RA, Dumontet S, Ulgiati S, Falcucci G, Vadursi M, Jannelli E, Minutillo M, Cozzolino R, Trifuoggi M, Erme G, De Santis E (2013) Microbial fuel cells fed by solid organic waste: a preliminar experimental study. In: European Fuel Cell Conference EFC 2013 – Rome, 11-13 December. Oral presentation. Article in book of proceedings, pp 139–140Google Scholar
  24. Nastro RA (2014) Microbial fuel cells in waste treatment: recent advances. Int J Perform Eng 10(4):367–376Google Scholar
  25. Nastro RA, Falcucci G, Toscanesi M, Minutillo M, Pasquale V, Trifuoggi M, Dumontet S, Jannelli E (2015a) Performances and microbiology of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) fed with the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW). In: Proceedings of EFC15 Conference, Naples (Italy), 15–18 Dec 2015Google Scholar
  26. Nastro RA, Falcucci G, Hodgson DM, Minutillo M, Trifuoggi M, Guida M, Avignone-Rossa Dumontet S, Jannelli E, Ulgiati S (2015b) Utilization of agro-industrial and urban waste as feedstock in microbial fuel cells (MFCs). In: Proceedings of the global cleaner production and sustainable consumption conference, Sitges (Spain), 1–4 Nov 2015Google Scholar
  27. Oh ST, Kim JR, Premier GC, Lee TH, Kim C, Sloan WT (2010) Sustainable wastewater treatment: how might microbial fuel cells contribute. Biotechnol Adv 28:871–881CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Oyetunde T, Ofiteru D, Rodriguez J (2013) Modeling bioelectrochemical systems for wastewater treatment and bioenergy recovery with COMSOL multiphysics®. In: Proceedings of the 2013 COMSOL conference in BostonGoogle Scholar
  29. Pant D, Van Bogaert G, Diels L, Vanbroekhoven K (2010) A review of the substrates used in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) for sustainable energy production. Bioresource Technol 101:1533–1543Google Scholar
  30. Pant D, Singh A, Van Bogaert G, Alvarez Gallego Y, Diels L, Vanbroekhoven K (2011) An introduction to the life cycle assessment (LCA) of bioelectrochemical systems (BES) for sustainable energy and product generation: relevance and key aspects. Renew Sust Energ Rev 15:1305–1313Google Scholar
  31. Pant D, Singh A, Vanbroekhoven K, Van Bogaert G, Irving Olsen S, Singh Nigam P, Diels L (2012) Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) for sustainable energy production and product recovery from organic wastes and industrial wastewaters. RSC Adv 2:1248–1263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Porta D, Milani S, Lazzarino AI, Perucci CA, Forastiere F (2009) Systematic review of epidemiological studies on health effects associated with management of solid waste. Environ Health 8–60Google Scholar
  33. Premier GC, Kim JR, Massanet-Nicolau J, Kyazze G, Esteves SRR, Penumathsaa BKV, Rodríguez J, Maddy J, Dinsdale RM, Guwy AJ (2012) Integration of biohydrogen, biomethane and bioelectrochemical systems. Renew Energy 49:188–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rabaey K, Rozendal RA (2010) Microbial electrosynthesis—revisiting the electrical route for microbial production. Nat Rev Microbiol 8(10):706–716CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Recio-Garrido D, Perrier M, Tartakovsky B (2016) Modeling optimization and control of bioelectrochemical systems. Chem Eng J 289:180–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rushton L (2003) Health hazards and waste management. Br Med Bull 68:71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shaoan LH, Chen Chen G (2011) Bioelectrochemical systems for efficient recalcitrant wastes treatment. J Chem Technol Biotechnol 86:481–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sleutels THJA, Ter Heijne A, Buisman CJN, Hamelers HVM (2012) Bioelectrochemical systems: an outlook for practical applications. ChemSusChem 5:1012–1019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. UNEP - United Nations Environmental Programme (2010) Waste and Climate Change - Global trends and strategy framework. Available on Accessed Dec 2015
  40. Van Eerten-Jansen MCAA, Ter Heijne A, Buisman CJM, Hamelers HVM (2012) Microbial electrolysis cells for production of methane from CO2: long-term performance and perspectives. Int J Energy Res 36:809–819Google Scholar
  41. Villano M, Monaco G, Aulenta F, Majone M (2011) Electrochemically assisted methane production in a biofilm reactor. J Power Sources 196:9467–9472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wang C, Lee Y, Liao F (2015) Effect of composting parameters on the power performance of solid microbial fuel cells. Sustainability 7(9):12634–12643CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wei J, Liang P, Huang X (2011) Recent progress in electrodes for microbial fuel cells. Bioresour Technol 102:9335–9344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Winfield J, Chambers LD, Rossiter J, Stinchcombe A, Walter XA, Greenman J, Ieropoulos I (2015) Fade to green: a biodegradable stack of microbial fuel cells. ChemSusChem 8:2705–2712Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Engineering of the Enterprise Mario LucertiniUniversity of Rome Tor VergataRomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of EngineeringParthenope University of NaplesNaplesItaly

Personalised recommendations