Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Engineering (MS)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor 1

Jennifer Becker

Committee Member 1

Eric Seagren

Committee Member 2

Wen Zhou


Biodegradable municipal solid waste (MSW) is rich in biochemical energy; however, much of this energy is sequestered in conventional landfills. Although bioreactor landfills enhance conversion of MSW to methane, the generated methane is a potent greenhouse gas and cannot be fully captured in landfills. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) can directly convert the biochemical energy in MSW to electricity, treat leachate, extend landfill longevity, and minimize fugitive methane emissions. However, the electricity production from MFCs cannot yet meet the energy demands of treatment and improvements in the performance of leachate-fed MFCs are needed. Effective approaches for the design and operation of MFCs are currently lacking. Therefore, the goals of this study are to (1) improve our understanding of the effect of substrate concentration and organic loading rate on the performance of MFCs, and (2) estimate the kinetics parameters needed for the modeling of MFC-leachate treatment systems. These goals were achieved by generating synthetic leachate using a laboratory-scale bioreactor landfill filled with shredded paper, food waste, and dry dog food. The leachate was diluted to different substrate (chemical oxygen demand, COD) concentrations until steady-state current production was achieved at a given COD loading rate. Voltage in the MFC was measured continuously and, along with steady-state measurements of COD removal in the MFC, was used to estimate microbial kinetic parameters in the MFC and determine the optimal conditions for current production, the conversion of biochemical substrates to electricity (coulombic efficiency), and COD removal. This study will help inform the future design and operation of bioreactor landfill-MFC treatment systems to achieve more effective leachate treatment as well as more efficient electricity generation.