Simultaneous energy harvest and nitrogen removal using a supercapacitor microbial fuel cell.Environ Pollut. 2020 Nov; 266(Pt 2):115154.EP
The insufficient removal of pollutants and bioelectricity production have become a bottleneck for high-concentration saline wastewater treatment through microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology. Herein, a novel supercapacitor MFC (SC-MFC) was constructed with carbon nanofibers composite electrodes to investigate pollutant removal ability, power generation, and electrochemical properties using real landfill leachate. The possible extracellular electron transfer and nitrogen element conversion pathways in the bioanode were also analyzed. Results showed that the SC-MFC had higher pollutant removal rates (COD: 59.4 ± 1.2%; NH4+-N: 78.2 ± 1.6%; and TN: 77.8 ± 1.2%), smaller internal impedance Rt (∼6 Ω), higher exchange current density i0 (2.1 × 10-4 A cm-2), and a larger catalytic current j0 (704 μA cm-2) with 60% leachate than those with 10% and 20% leachate, resulting in a power output of 298 ± 22 mW m-2. Ammonium could be incorporated by chemoautotrophic bacteria to produce organic compounds that could be further utilized by heterotrophs to generate power when biodegradable organic matters are depleted. Three conversion pathways of nitrogen might be involved, including NH4+ diffusion from anode to cathode chamber, nitrification, and the denitrification process. Additionally, cyclic voltammetry tests showed that both the direct electron transfer (DET) and the mediator electron transfer in bioanode were involved and dominated by DET. The microbial analysis revealed that the bioanode was dominated by salt-tolerant denitrifying bacteria (38.5%), which was deduced to be the key functional microorganism. The electrochemically active bacteria decreased significantly from 61.7% to 4% over three stages of leachate treatment. Overall, the SC-MFC has demonstrated the potential for wastewater treatment along with energy harvesting and provides a new avenue toward sustainable leachate management.