DV-05-011 Microbial Fuel Cells to Accelerate Biodegredation under Anaerobic Conditions: A Low-maintenance, Environmentally Friendly Approach to Sediment Bioremediation

Jean MacRae
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469 207.581.2137

Marine and freshwater environments are vulnerable to pollution from spills, shipping and boating activity, runoff, and waste discharge. Many organic contaminants accumulate in sediment where they can affect habitat and the health of marine organisms. Once in the sediment, organic contaminants tend to be more resistant to microbial degradation because of a lack of oxygen. Microbial fuel cells harness electrons released during the breakdown of organic matter to produce an electric current. A fuel cell anode placed in anoxic sediment can serve as an electron acceptor if the cathode is placed in aerobic, overlying water. Bacteria feeding on organic carbon in the sediment are able to pass electrons to the electrode, allowing pollutant degradation in sediment to proceed even without oxygen. Microbial fuel cells could potentially be used not only to generate electricity, but also as a way to reduce pollution.

A set of experiments will determine hydrocarbon degradation rates and whether microbial fuel cells can accelerate the process of degrading diesel marine fuel. Pollutant remediation over time and distance will be monitored. Another set of experiments will determine the feasibility of using fuel cells to degrade waste from finfish aquaculture.

1-year project: $2,000