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Understanding the Influence of the Electrode Material on Microbial Fuel Cell Performance

Sanchez, David V.P. (2013) Understanding the Influence of the Electrode Material on Microbial Fuel Cell Performance. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this thesis, I deploy sets of electrodes into microbial fuel cells (MFC), characterize their performance, and evaluate the influence of both platinum catalysts and carbon-based electrodes on current production. The platinum work centers on improving current production by optimizing the use of the catalyst using nano-fabrication techniques. The carbon-electrode work seeks to determine the influence of the bare electrode on biofilm-anode current production.

The development of electrodes for MFCs has boomed over the past decade, however, experiments aimed at identifying how catalyst deposition methods and electrode properties influence current production have been limited. The research conducted here is an attempt to expand this knowledge base for platinum catalysts and carbon electrodes. In the initial chapters (4 and 5), I discuss our attempt to decrease catalyst loadings while increasing current production through the use of platinum nanoparticles. The results demonstrate that incorporating platinum nanoparticles throughout the anode and cathode is an efficient means of increasing MFC current production relative to surface deposition because it increases catalyst surface area.

The later chapters (chapters 6 and 7) develop an understanding of the importance of electrode properties (i.e. surface area, activation resistance, conductivity, surface morphology) by electrochemically evaluating well-studied anode-respiring pure cultures on different carbon electrode architectures. Two different architectures are produced by using tubular and platelet shaped constituent materials (i.e. carbon fibers and graphene nanoplatelets) and the morphologies of the electrodes are varied by altering the size of the constituent material.

The electrodes are characterized and evaluated in MFCs using either Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 or Geobacter sulfurreducens as the innoculant because their bioelectrochemical physiologies are the most documented in the literature. Using the electrochemical results, the electrode characterizations and previous studies on their physiology I am able to extrapolate that it is the difference in the electrode morphology that significantly alters current production. For the carbon fiber, smaller constituent materials create a tighter mesh and spacing that is more amenable to biofilm colonization and increases current production. In the second experiment, the larger graphene-nanoplatelet constituents provided a morphology that better promoted biofilm-growth, after the initial colonization, which enabled significantly higher current production.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sanchez, David
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairVidic, Radisav D.vidic@pitt.eduVIDIC
Committee CoChairYun, Minheemiy16@pitt.eduMIY16
Committee MemberGregory , Kelvin
Committee MemberBibby, Kyle J.bibbykj@pitt.eduBIBBYKJ
Committee MemberHarries, Kentkharries@pitt.eduKHARRIES
Committee MemberCasson, Leonard W.casson@pitt.eduCASSON
Date: 25 September 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 May 2013
Approval Date: 25 September 2013
Submission Date: 19 July 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 154
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Swanson School of Engineering > Civil and Environmental Engineering
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: microbial fuel cells, bioelectrochemical systems, electrode materials, nano-electrodes, biofilm-electrodes
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2013 14:15
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:14


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