Optimisation for scale-up of microbial fuel cells utilising whisky co-products for sustainable energy generation

  • Supervisors: A. Harper, J. Andresen (Heriot-Watt University), I. Goryanin (University of Edinburgh)
  • Sponsor company: M Power World
  • PhD Student: Ourania Dimou 

Modern energy concepts and approaches over the last decades have indicated an imperative need to move away from conventional environmentally intense technologies to environmentally friendly alternative ones. Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) present such an opportunity.

Utilising metabolic reactions of electrochemically active microorganisms MFCs break down organic matter generating electrons which are transferred to an electron acceptor. Simultaneously the microorganisms consume nutrients, removing them from the substrate thus, providing wastewater treatment. Distilling, on the other side, is practiced around the world and consists one of the most profitable industrial sectors and particularly for Scotland whisky distillation is a significant part of the food and beverage industry generating revenues of around £3 billion. Combining the need for treatment of whisky co-products and the natural solution that are microbial fuel cells, this project falls under the concept of sustainable energy generation, zero-waste and industrial symbiosis.

In collaboration with M Power World this project provides a unique opportunity to work on scalability through plurality bringing MFCs a step closer to industrial use. Primary goal of the project is to investigate three aspects of the technology emerging as a combination of areas of interest and areas that are in need of further research. First of all, of main interest is to address the concept of scale up through plurality and cell connection thus main goal is to operate separate units hydraulically and electrically connected in stacked configurations. The microbial aspect is of vital importance in the operation of microbial fuel cells and therefore additional goal is to examine microbial behaviour of the communities used and development in order to enhance performance through microbial efficiency throughout the units. Ultimate goal is the implementation of computational fluid dynamics focusing on the liquid flow in order to determine fluidic behaviour leading to a development of a more enhanced design.

The ETP studentship will enable an enhanced microbial fuel cell design with both novel industrial and academic benefits that will include better scientific understanding of the technology, cost reduction, energy recovery and generation.