Environmental issues associated with water sanitation are not confined to developing countries alone but are the most basic human and environmental necessities all over the world. Wastewater sources are major causes for environmental pollution in surface and ground water bodies. Current wastewater treatment technologies are not sustainable to meet the ever growing water sanitation needs due to rapid industrialization and population growth, simply because they are energy- and cost-intensive leaving latitude for development of technologies that are energy-conservative or energy-yielding. For the present and future context, microbial fuel cells technology may present a sustainable and an environmentally friendly route to meet the water sanitation needs. Microbial fuel cell based wastewater systems employ bioelectrochemical catalytic activity of microbes to produce electricity from the oxidation of organic, and in some cases inorganic, substrates present in urban sewage, agricultural, dairy, food and industrial wastewaters. This article presents the potential for energy generation and comprehensive wastewater treatment in microbial fuel cells. The article provides an overview of recent literature with two specific aims. First, it provides an overview of current energy needs for wastewater treatment and potential energy recovery options followed by a comprehensive review of the principles of wastewater treatment, substrate utilization (organic removal), recent process developments, nutrient and metal removal capacities in microbial fuel cells. Several issues related to process performance, organic removal capacities and potential environmental impacts were discussed in detail. From the economic and life cycle assessment point of view, although recent developments in power production are encouraging, important discoveries in electrode materials, innovative and integrated process configurations along with experience in pilot scale studies are urgently required to determine the real potential of the microbial fuel cell technology to provide sustainable and energy-positive wastewater treatment. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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