Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Demonstrating Power Production in Wastewater Treatment Processes on a Pilot Scale Basis(ST11095)

HydroQual Environmental Engineers & Scie


Most wastewater treatment processes are based on aerobic biological processes and consume large amounts of energy. Currently, the most widely used approach to generate energy from wastewater is through methane production from anaerobic sludge digestion. Nevertheless, methane represents only a portion of the potential energy stored in wastewater; the remainder, chemical energy, is not being harvested for energy production. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) use bacteria commonly found in wastewater to harvest chemical energy stored in the water and subsequently generate electricity. Recent efforts have tested MFCs at the bench-scale level yielding increasingly effective power generation rates. When compared with traditional fuel cells that require pure organic sources, high temperature, and high pressure, MFCs produce electricity, with coincident wastewater treatment, under ambient conditions at low cost. Ultimately, the success of MFCs in the wastewater treatment industry lies in optimizing power generation and contaminant removal in a manner that demonstrates cost-effectiveness and energy efficiencies equivalent to, or better than, conventional aerobic and anaerobic treatment and renewable power generation processes.

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Project Description

The project demonstrated the effective conversion of wastewater to electricity in innovative single-chamber granular activated carbon MFCs (GAC-MFCs) installed at the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility (GJJWWTF). Several 20-liter units were installed to allow concurrent in-field testing of alternate operating conditions including flow configuration (i.e., up-flow vs. down-flow), influent COD, HRT, and reactor temperature. Three distinct wastewater streams, influent wastewater (soluble COD 300 to 500 mg/L), high strength industrial wastewater (soluble COD 10,000 to 30,000 mg/L), and digester supernatant (soluble COD 1000 to 5000 mg/L), were tested.


Wastewater represents a significant energy pool since it holds a large store of potential energy in the form of carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids, etc. Microbial fuel cells (MFC) are a promising renewable energy technology for the wastewater treatment industry. The opportunity to test a range of influent streams significantly benefitted the project.

Project Results

The project determined the conversion efficiencies of wastewater contaminants to power under different operating conditions with the goal of developing engineering rationale for sizing and applying MFCs at full-scale. The project team assessed the potential of using GAC-based MFCs as real-time monitors of contaminant concentration, and refined the operational and measurement protocols used for electrochemical and biochemical analysis of MFCs to allow for improved research and demonstration of the technology in the wastewater treatment industry.


HydroQual Environmental Engineers & Scie
1200 MacArthur Blvd
Mahwah, NJ 07430

Principle Investigator

Karl Scheible

Universities Involved

University of Connecticut


Project Type:

Product Demonstration

Technologies Types:

Waste Management and Pollution Prevention
Water/Wastewater treatment systems

NYSERDA Contact Information

Kathleen O'Connor


R&D - Environment & Energy Res

Contract Details

Start Date: 3/15/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST11095

Last Updated: 5/3/2012 8