Sediment microbial fuel cells (SMFCs) are used as renewable power sources to operate remote sensors. However, increasing the electrode surface area results in decreased power density, which demonstrates that SMFCs do not scale up with size. As an alternative to the physical scale-up of SMFCs, we proposed that it is possible to scale up power by using smaller-sized individually operated SMFCs connected to a power management system that electrically isolates the anodes and cathodes. To demonstrate our electronic scale-up approach, we operated one 0.36-m2 SMFC (called a single-equivalent SMFC) and four independent SMFCs of 0.09 m2 each (called scaled-up SMFCs) and managed the power using an innovative custom-developed power management system. We found that the single-equivalent SMFC and the scaled-up SMFCs produced similar power for the first 155 days. However, in the long term (>155 days) our scaled-up SMFCs generated significantly more power than the single-equivalent SMFC (2.33 mW vs. 0.64 mW). Microbial community analysis of the single-equivalent SMFC and the scaled-up SMFCs showed very similar results, demonstrating that the difference in operation mode had no significant effect on the microbial community. When we compared scaled-up SMFCs with parallel SMFCs, we found that the scaled-up SMFCs generated more power. Our novel approach demonstrates that SMFCs can be scaled up electronically.
Journal: Journal of power sources