Production of hydrogen from domestic wastewater in a pilot-scale microbial electrolysis cell

E. S. Heidrich*, J. Dolfing, K. Scott, S. R. Edwards, C. Jones, T. P. Curtis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


Addressing the need to recover energy from the treatment of domestic wastewater, a 120-L microbial electrolysis cell was operated on site in Northern England, using raw domestic wastewater to produce virtually pure hydrogen gas (100 ± 6.4 %) for a period of over 3 months. The volumetric loading rate was 0.14 kg of chemical oxygen demand (COD) per cubic metre per day, just below the typical loading rates for activated sludge of 0.2-2 kg COD m-3 day-1, at an energetic cost of 2.3 kJ/g COD, which is below the values for activated sludge 2.5-7.2 kJ/g COD. The reactor produced an equivalent of 0.015 L H2 L-1 day-1, and recovered around 70 % of the electrical energy input with a coulombic efficiency of 55 %. Although the reactor did not reach the breakeven point of 100 % electrical energy recovery and COD removal was limited, improved hydrogen capture and reactor design could increase the performance levels substantially. Importantly, for the first time, a 'proof of concept' has been made, showing that this technology is capable of energy capture as hydrogen gas from low strength domestic wastewaters at ambient temperatures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6979-6989
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


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