Electricity generation and nutrients removal from high-strength liquid manure by air-cathode microbial fuel cells

Hongjian Lin, Xiao Wu, Chad Nelson, Curtis Miller, Jun Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Air-cathode microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are widely tested to recover electrical energy from waste streams containing organic matter. When high-strength wastewater, such as liquid animal manure, is used as a medium, inhibition on anode and cathode catalysts potentially impairs the effectiveness of MFC performance in power generation and pollutant removal. This study evaluated possible inhibitive effects of liquid swine manure components on MFC power generation, improved liquid manure-fed MFCs performance by pretreatment (dilution and selective adsorption), and modeled the kinetics of organic matter and nutrients removal kinetics. Parameters monitored included pH, conductivity, chemical oxygen demand (COD), volatile fatty acids (VFAs), total ammoniacal nitrogen (TAN), nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate concentrations. The removals of VFA and TAN were efficient, indicated by the short half-life times of 4.99 and 7.84 d, respectively. The mechanism for phosphate decrease was principally the salt precipitation on cathode, but the removal was incomplete after 42-d operation. MFC with an external resistor of 2.2 kΩ and fed with swine wastewater generated relatively small power (28.2 W), energy efficiency (0.37%) and Coulombic efficiency (1.5%). Dilution of swine wastewater dramatically improved the power generation as the inhibitory effect was decreased. Zeolite and granular activated carbon were effective in the selective adsorption of ammonia or organic matter in swine wastewater, and so substantially improved the power generation, energy efficiency, and Coulombic efficiency. A smaller external resistor in the circuit was also observed to promote the organic matter degradation and thus to shorten the treatment time. Overall, air-cathode MFCs are promising for generating electrical power from livestock wastewater and meanwhile reducing the level of organic matter and nutrients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-250
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Science and Health - Part A Toxic/Hazardous Substances and Environmental Engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 23 2016


  • Ammonium removal
  • dilution
  • external resistors
  • granular activated carbon
  • kinetics
  • zeolite

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