Hydrogen gas can be produced from fermentation end products such as acetic acid through the electrohydrogenesis process in microbial electrolysis cells (MECs). In many MEC reactors, precious metal catalysts and expensive cation exchange membranes are often used. Here we examine Co- and FeCo-based alternatives to Pt, and compare the performance of an anion exchange membrane with that of a cation exchange membrane (Nafion™ 117). It is found that these alternative catalysts have 40–80% better performance than uncatalysed surfaces, but they do not equal the performance of Pt based on our electrochemical tests using cyclic voltammetry. It was also found that the anion exchange membrane (AEM) performance was equal to that of cation exchange membrane (CEM) at applied voltages of 600 mV or less in MEC tests, but that it exceeded performance of the CEM at voltages above 600 mV. These results demonstrate choosing catalysts will require both analysis of performance and materials costs, but that performance is improved for producing H2 gas in MECs using AEMs.

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