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Microbial Fuel Cell Cathodes With Poly(dimethylsiloxane) Diffusion Layers Constructed Around Stainless Steel Mesh Current Collectors.

F. Zhang, Tomonori Saito, Shaoan Cheng, Michael A. Hickner, B. Logan
Published 2010 · Materials Science, Medicine

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A new and simplified approach for making cathodes for microbial fuel cells (MFCs) was developed by using metal mesh current collectors and inexpensive polymer/carbon diffusion layers (DLs). Rather than adding a current collector to a cathode material such as carbon cloth, we constructed the cathode around the metal mesh itself, thereby avoiding the need for the carbon cloth or other supporting material. A base layer of poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) and carbon black was applied to the air-side of a stainless steel mesh, and Pt on carbon black with Nafion binder was applied to the solution-side as catalyst for oxygen reduction. The PDMS prevented water leakage and functioned as a DL by limiting oxygen transfer through the cathode and improving coulombic efficiency. PDMS is hydrophobic, stable, and less expensive than other DL materials, such as PTFE, that are commonly applied to air cathodes. Multiple PDMS/carbon layers were applied in order to optimize the performance of the cathode. Two PDMS/carbon layers achieved the highest maximum power density of 1610 +/- 56 mW/m(2) (normalized to cathode projected surface area; 47.0 +/- 1.6 W/m(3) based on liquid volume). This power output was comparable to the best result of 1635 +/- 62 mW/m(2) obtained using carbon cloth with three PDMS/carbon layers and a Pt catalyst. The coulombic efficiency of the mesh cathodes reached more than 80%, and was much higher than the maximum of 57% obtained with carbon cloth. These findings demonstrate that cathodes can be constructed around metal mesh materials such as stainless steel, and that an inexpensive coating of PDMS can prevent water leakage and lead to improved coulombic efficiencies.
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