Less is More: A Comprehensive Study on the Effects of the Number of Gas Diffusion Layers on Air–Cathode Microbial Fuel Cells

Pilar Sánchez-Peña, Jesús Rodriguez, Raquel Montes, Juan Antonio Baeza*, David Gabriel, Mireia Baeza, Albert Guisasola

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Air-cathode microbial fuel cells (AC-MFC) use a gas-diffusion-layer (GDL) coating based on polytetrafluoroethylene applied to the cathode to prevent electrolyte leakage. However, this type of GDL can also lead to a decrease in MFC performance due to electron-transfer limitation, mass-transfer limitation or catalyst availability. This study provides a comprehensive understanding of the significance of the GDL coating, demonstrating the interaction between the number of GDL coatings and the external resistance (Rext) used. An experimental design in 28 mL AC-MFCs was prepared and conducted using two different Rext (10 and 249 Ω) and four different GDL coatings (1 to 4 layers). The coating effect was not significant when operating with a high Rext, where the electron transfer was the limiting process. However, when the Rext was low, the amount of polytetrafluoroethylene limited the cathode performance due to a significant decrease in the Pt availability on the catalytic surface. Thus, GDL-1 with 10 Ω as Rext reached 0.96 mA/cm2, 3-fold higher than that obtained with 249 Ω as Rext (ca. 0.30 mA/cm2). Besides, the current density did not vary noticeably in the other cathodes with 249 Ω as Rext. Contrarily, the current density with 10 Ω as Rext decreased as the number of GDL increased (0.74, 0.57 and 0.37 for GDL-2, GDL-3 and GDL-4 respectively). These values agreed with those of the polarization curve. Furthermore, limitations were also observed in electrochemical impedance spectroscopy measurements: the charge resistance increased with the number of GDL, related to the ease of electron flow. These values were18 Ω, 22 Ω, 53 Ω and 58 Ω for GDL-1, GDL-2, GDL-3 and GDL-4, respectively, for both 10 and 249 Ω cathodes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3416-3426
Number of pages11
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • air-cathode
  • external resistance
  • gas diffusion layer
  • microbial fuel cells
  • thickness


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