Nickel-Based Membrane Electrodes Enable High-Rate Electrochemical Ammonia Recovery

Dianxun Hou, Arpita Iddya, Xi Chen, Mengyuan Wang, Wenli Zhang, Yifu Ding, David Jassby, Zhiyong Jason Ren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Wastewater contains significant amounts of nitrogen that can be recovered and valorized as fertilizers and chemicals. This study presents a new membrane electrode coupled with microbial electrolysis that demonstrates very efficient ammonia recovery from synthetic centrate. The process utilizes the electrical potential across electrodes to drive NH4+ ions toward the hydrophilic nickel top layer on a gas-stripping membrane cathode, which takes advantage of surface pH increase to realize spontaneous NH3  production and  separation. Compared with a control configuration with conventionally separated electrode and hydrophobic membrane, the integrated membrane electrode showed 40% higher NH3-N recovery rate (36.2 ± 1.2 gNH3-N/m2/d) and 11% higher current density. The energy consumption was 1.61 ± 0.03 kWh/kgNH3-N, which was 20% lower than the control and 70-90% more efficient than competing electrochemical nitrogen recovery processes (5-12 kWh/kgNH3-N). Besides, the negative potential on membrane electrode repelled negatively charged organics and microbes thus reduced fouling. In addition to describing the system's performance, we explored the underlying mechanisms governing the reactions, which confirmed the viability of this process for efficient wastewater-ammonia recovery. Furthermore, the nickel-based membrane electrode showed excellent water entry pressure (¼41 kPa) without leakage, which was much higher than that of PTFE/PDMS-based cathodes (¼1.8 kPa). The membrane electrode also showed superb flexibility (180 ° bend) and can be easily fabricated at low cost (
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8930-8938
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Jun 25 2018


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