The present study evaluates the performance of air-cathode microbial fuel cells (MFCs) under alternating open circuit/closed circuit (OC/CC) modes and its effect on independent-electrode and full-cell potentials, power output (at different external resistances) and the polarization behaviour of the electrodes.
Three different types of feeds were evaluated using this approach: (1) phosphorus buffer solution (PBS) with acetate as carbon source, (2) glucose-rich synthetic wastewater, and (3) sewage from wastewater treatment plant enriched with fermented molasses. When MFCs were suddenly switched to CC from OC and then again back to OC from CC, the behaviour of the anodes vs reference electrode (Ag/AgCl, 3 M KCl) was monitored.
When electric circuit of the MFCs was switched from open to closed circuit, for all cases: (a) the anode potential-shift (vs Ag/AgCl) reallocated in the positive direction in about 200–400 mV, (b) the air-cathode potential-shift (vs Ag/AgCl) reallocated in the negative direction in about 10–25 mV, and (c) the cell-potential difference started at around 0 mV and progressively increased as the MFC reached stability. This behaviour was consistently reproduced during different OC/CC cycles.
The systems studied delivered good performance with both controlled media and industrial wastewater. Additionally, this study provides insightful characterization of the independent-electrode behaviours.