Effect of iron oxide content and microstructural porosity on the performance of ceramic membranes as microbial fuel cell separators
Ceramic materials based on naturally occurring clays are a low cost and environmentally friendly alternative to commercial polymer-based membranes in bioelectrochemical systems. In this work, ceramic membranes containing different amounts of iron oxide (1.06, 2.76 and 5.75 vol.%) and sintered at different temperatures (1100, 1200 and 1300 °C) have been elaborated and tested as separators in urine-fed microbial fuel cells (MFCs). The results reveal that the presence of iron oxide phase in the ceramic membrane composition increases the structural porosity and reduces the pore size for the three temperatures investigated. On the other hand, it was also observed that the iron content mitigates the negative effect of the high sintering temperature on the power performance of the MFCs. In the case of the ceramic membranes sintered at 1300 °C, 826.8 % of power output improvement was reached when the iron oxide content in the membrane increased from 1.06 up to 5.75 vol.% (30.9 and 286.6 µW, respectively). Among the different combinations of iron phase content and sintering temperatures, the maximum power output was obtained by MFCs working with separators containing 5.75 vol.% of iron oxide and sintered at 1100 °C (1.045 mW). Finally, the system performed stable during 65 days, which supports the long-term functionality of the different materials assessed.