Hybrid Microbial Fuel Cell-Biofiltration System for Energy-Neutral Wastewater Treatment

Dr. Donald Cropek | U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center - Construction Engineering Research Laboratory



This project will demonstrate and validate a distributed treatment system for domestic wastewater that integrates newly developed and highly complementary microbial fuel cell (MFC) and biofilter (BF) technologies. Specific objectives include:

  • Integrate the MFC and BF technologies in an operator friendly configuration.
  • Demonstrate the production of high-quality re-usable water that meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Guidelines for Water Reuse.
  • Demonstrate a reduction in energy consumption relative to conventional aerobic wastewater treatment technology.
  • Demonstrate a reduction in residuals (sludge) compared to aerobic bioreactors.
  • Compare the cost and performance of the MFC/BF system to conventional treatment systems used for water reuse such as ultrafiltration/reverse osmosis.
  • Generate life cycle cost data to confirm a payback period of less than 10 years.
ER201635_anode cathode module

Anode Cathode Module

Back to Top

Technology Description

This domestic wastewater treatment and reuse technology is comprised of an MFC followed by a BF. The MFC uses exoelectrogenic bacteria on a graphite anode to oxidize organics to carbon dioxide in combination with a carbon cathode that does not contain precious metals and reduces oxygen to water. The MFC treats wastewater organics down to a chemical oxygen demand (COD) of ~150 mg/L and generates electricity at low voltage. Voltage boost converters are used to increase the voltage for a variety of uses. The residual COD is polished in the BF that is comprised of two granular activated carbon contactors. One of the contactors is on-line at a time and treats residual organics via adsorption and biodegradation. After a period of about 6 hours the contactor is taken off-line, drained, and regenerated by the air that is drawn into the contactor. The other contactor is placed on-line. The effluent from the BF is optionally treated using filtration and disinfection to yield water for a variety of non-potable reuse applications.

Back to Top


A distributed MFC-BF technology can provide an energy efficient solution for wastewater treatment and increased water reuse capacity, enhancing the sustainability of Department of Defense (DoD) installations. With respect to water security and sustainability, the MFC-BF system represents a new capability for meeting net water reduction goals for the DoD. Better resource management leads to more resilient and better prepared installations. With respect to energy and economic savings, the system will be evaluated to assess total impacts through holistic life cycle analyses that consider not just the process and local water savings but also the offsets to wastewater treatment, water production, and water conveyance at the installation level. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2020)

Back to Top

Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Donald Cropek

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC)

Phone: 217-373-6737

Fax: 217-373-7222

Program Manager

Environmental Restoration