Addition of a carbon fiber brush improves anaerobic digestion compared to external voltage application

G. Baek, P.E. Saikaly, B.E. Logan
Water Research, Vol. 188, p. 116575, (2020)


Anaerobic digestion, Carbon brush, Microbial community structure, Microbial electrolysis cell, Surface area


​Two methods were examined to improve methane production efficiency in anaerobic digestion (AD) based on adding a large amount of surface area using a single electrically conductive carbon brush, or by adding electrodes as done in microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) to form a hybrid AD-MEC. To examine the impact of surface area relative to electrodes, AD reactors were fitted with a single large brush without electrodes (FB), half a large brush with two electrodes with an applied voltage (0.8 V) and operated in closed circuit (HB-CC) or open circuit (HB-OC) mode, or only two electrodes with a closed circuit and no large brush (NB-CC) (equivalent to an MEC). The three configurations with a half or full brush all had improved performance as shown by 57-82% higher methane generation rate parameters in the Gompertz model compared to NB-CC. The retained biomass was much higher in the reactors with large brush, which likely contributed to the rapid consumption of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) and therefore improved AD performance. A different microbial community structure was formed in the large-size brushes compared to the electrodes. Methanothrix was predominant in the biofilm of large-size carbon brush, while Geobacter (anode) and Methanobacterium (cathode) were highly abundant in the electrode biofilms. These results demonstrate that adding a high surface area carbon fiber brush will be a more effective method of improving AD performance than using MEC electrodes with an applied voltage.




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