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Novel methanogenic rotatable bioelectrochemical system operated with polarity inversion

Cheng, K.Y., Ho, G.ORCID: 0000-0001-9190-8812 and Cord-Ruwisch, R. (2011) Novel methanogenic rotatable bioelectrochemical system operated with polarity inversion. Environmental Science & Technology, 45 (2). pp. 796-802.

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A novel membraneless bioelectrochemical system termed rotatable bioelectrochemical contactor (RBEC) was fabricated and evaluated for its ability to recover useful energy (here methane) from a low organic strength wastewater. We studied the operational characteristics of the RBEC by operating it as a three-electrode electrolysis cell. A stack of conductive disks (each subdivided into two half disks), similar to rotating biological contactors, were rotated with one-half disk immersed in the wastewater and the other into the gas headspace. By carrying out regular half rotations (180° rotation) the anode became the cathode and vice versa. This operation resulted in the build-up of a biofilm that could catalyze both an anodic acetate oxidation and a cathode-driven methanogenesis. Methane production rate was directly proportional to the applied electrical energy. Increase in current density (from 0.16 to 4.1 A m-2) resulted in a faster COD removal (from 0.2 to 1.38 kg COD m-3 day-1) and methane production (from 0.04 to 0.53 L L-1 day-1). Of the electrons flowing across the circuit, over 80% were recovered as methane. Such methane production was electrochemically driven by the headspace-exposed cathodic half disks, which released the methane directly to the gas-phase. Energy analysis shows that the new design requires less energy for COD removal than what is typically required for oxygen supply in activated sludge processes. Because the system could operate without wastewater recirculation against gravity; additional pH buffer chemicals; ion-exchange membranes or electrochemical catalysts, it has desirable characteristics for process up-scale. Further, the current report shows the first example of a BES with identical biofilm (due to intermittent polarity inversion) on both electrodes.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
School of Environmental Science
Publisher: American Chemical Society
Copyright: © 2011 American Chemical Society
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