IIT Jodhpur
Electricity generation and removal of Uranium and nitrate from nuclear waste using microbial fuel cell

Nuclear wastes emerging from nuclear fuel cycle plants are generally rich in nitrates and heavy metals particularly radionuclides like Uranium. Uranium is an element of great concern due to the toxic effects it exerts to the environment. Nitrate has also been identified as a major groundwater contaminant in many countries. It causes the blue baby syndrome in infants (methemoglobinemia) and is carcinogenic in nature. In this breakthrough research, removal of uranium and nitrate was done using microbial fuel cell (MFC). In addition, a power density of 2.91 W/m3 was also generated. This research work was done by the PhD students Dr. Ankisha Vijay and Amitap Khandelwal under the supervision of Dr. Meenu Chhabra, Associate professor (Department of Bioscience and Bioengineering) at IIT Jodhpur.
Nuclear wastes emerging from nuclear power plants, nuclear industries, uranium mining are generally rich in heavy metals, particularly radionuclides like uranium. Uranium is an element of great concern due to its radioactivity and WHO (World Health Organization) has set the permissible limit of uranium discharge as 30ug/l. The contamination of uranium in water and soil can cause many chronic radiation diseases due to acute toxicity. Uranium is generally found in two states, one is soluble hexavalent state U (VI), and another one is insoluble tetravalent state U (IV). Uranium predominates in industrial effluents as a salt of U (VI) and can leach into groundwater. The conventional methods for the uranium remediation from wastewater are highly expensive and not effective.
Microbial fuel cell (MFC) is an emerging technology that can convert waste into electricity using exo-electrogenic bacteria which are electricity-producing bacteria. In this way, the energy hidden in the waste can be used for producing power. The research on the different types of contaminants removal by MFC is going on in the worldwide, but this is a first study in which Prof. Chhabra and her team was able to demonstrate the applicability of MFC for simultaneous U (VI) and nitrate removal while producing electrical energy
MFC technology is economically viable as compared to the chemical treatment of these contaminants in the wastes. This study will open new insights into the bioremediation of nuclear waste while generating power. The investigation was done in collaboration with Tessy Vincent, Scientist at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai. This study is published in Chemical Engineering Journal (Impact factor – 8.3).
Link to published work - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1385894720301480