Impact of initial biofilm growth on the anode impedance of microbial fuel cells

Ramaraja P. Ramasamy, Zhiyong Ren, Matthew M. Mench, John M. Regan

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201 Scopus citations


Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) was used to study the behavior of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) during initial biofilm growth in an acetate-fed, two-chamber MFC system with ferricyanide in the cathode. EIS experiments were performed both on the full cell (between cathode and anode) as well as on individual electrodes. The Nyquist plots of the EIS data were fitted with an equivalent electrical circuit to estimate the contributions of various intrinsic resistances to the overall internal MFC impedance. During initial development of the anode biofilm, the anode polarization resistance was found to decrease by over 70% at open circuit and by over 45% at 27 μA/cm2, and a simultaneous increase in power density by about 120% was observed. The exchange current density for the bio-electrochemical reaction on the anode was estimated to be in the range of 40-60 nA/cm2 for an immature biofilm after 5 days of closed circuit operation, which increased to around 182 nA/cm 2 after more than 3 weeks of operation and stable performance in an identical parallel system. The polarization resistance of the anode was 30-40 times higher than that of the ferricyanide cathode for the conditions tested, even with an established biofilm. For a two-chamber MFC system with a Nafion® 117 membrane and an inter-electrode spacing of 15 cm, the membrane and electrolyte solution dominate the ohmic resistance and contribute to over 95% of the MFC internal impedance. Detailed EIS analyses provide new insights into the dominant kinetic resistance of the anode bio-electrochemical reaction and its influence on the overall power output of the MFC system, even in the high internal resistance system used in this study. These results suggest that new strategies to address this kinetic constraint of the anode bio-electrochemical reactions are needed to complement the reduction of ohmic resistance in modern designs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-108
Number of pages8
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biotechnology


  • Biofilm
  • Charge transfer resistance
  • Electrochemical impedance
  • Internal resistance
  • Microbial fuel cells
  • Polarization resistance


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