A crucial aspect for the application of bioelectrochemical systems (BESs) as a wastewater treatment technology is the efficient oxidation of complex substrates by the bioanode, which is reflected in high Coulombic efficiency (CE). To achieve high CE, it is essential to give a competitive advantage to electrogens over methanogens. Factors that affect CE in bioanodes are, amongst others, the type of wastewater, anode potential, substrate concentration and pH. In this paper, we focus on acetate as a substrate and analyze the competition between methanogens and electrogens from a thermodynamic and kinetic point of view. We reviewed experimental data from earlier studies and propose that low substrate loading in combination with a sufficiently high anode overpotential plays a key-role in achieving high CE. Low substrate loading is a proven strategy against methanogenic activity in large-scale reactors for sulfate reduction. The combination of low substrate loading with sufficiently high overpotential is essential because it results in favorable growth kinetics of electrogens compared to methanogens. To achieve high current density in combination with low substrate concentrations, it is essential to have a high specific anode surface area. New reactor designs with these features are essential for BESs to be successful in wastewater treatment in the future.
Sleutels, T., Molenaar, S., Heijne, A., & Buisman, C. (2016). Low Substrate Loading Limits Methanogenesis and Leads to High Coulombic Efficiency in Bioelectrochemical Systems. Microorganisms, 4(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms4010007