A New Method for Water Desalination Using Microbial Desalination Cells

Xiaoxin Cao, Xia Huang, Peng Liang, Kang Xiao, Yingjun Zhou, Xiaoyuan Zhang, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

706 Scopus citations


Current water desalination techniques are energy intensive and some use membranes operated at high pressures. It is shownhere that water desalination can be accomplished without electrical energy input or high water pressure by using a source of organic matter as the fuel to desalinate water. A microbial fuel cell was modified by placing two membranes between the anode and cathode, creating a middle chamber for water desalination between the membranes. An anion exchange membrane was placed adjacent to the anode, and a cation exchange membrane was positioned next to the cathode. When current was produced by bacteria on the anode, ionic species in the middle chamber were transferred into the two electrode chambers, desalinating the water in the middle chamber. Proof-of-concept experiments for this approach, using what we call a microbial desalination cell (MDC), was demonstrated using water at different initial salt concentrations (5, 20, and 35 g/L) with acetate used as the substrate for the bacteria. The MDC produced a maximum of 2 W/m2 (31 W/m3) while at the same time removing about 90% of the salt in a single desalination cycle. As the salt was removed from the middle chamber the ohmic resistance of the MDC (measured using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy) increased from 25 Ω to 970 Ω at the end of the cycle. This increased resistance was reflected by a continuous decrease in the voltage produced over the cycle. These results demonstrate for the first time the possibility for a new method for water desalination and power production that uses only a source of biodegradable organic matter and bacteria. © 2009 American Chemical Society.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7148-7152
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 15 2009
Externally publishedYes


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