Environmental Technologies for Contaminated Solids, Soils and Sediments
5th cohort

Lea Chua

Anaerobic treatment of mine wastewater for the removal of selenate and its co-contaminants

This research aimed at addressing the effect of wastewater characteristics (i.e. co-contaminants, heavy metals and pH) on the biological reduction of selenate (SeO42-) and evaluating process integration and configurations for selenium-laden wastewater treatment with co-contaminants. The first part of the study focused on the effect of co-electron acceptors and low pH on the bioremediation of SeO42-. Results from the experiments showed that the molar ratio of NO3- and SO42- to SeO42- has a controlling factor in either increasing or decreasing the selenium (Se) removal efficiency. Additionally, a study on biofilm-Se interactions revealed the presence of either NO3- or SO42- influences the Se speciation, biogenic Se (Se0) levels and biomass activity. Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor operation with a gradual decrease in the influent pH from 7.0 to 5.5 showed a stable removal performance of NO3-, SO42- and SeO42-, before a 20% decrease in removal of all these components was observed at pH 5.0. Furthermore, long-term operation of the UASB reactor at pH 5.0 showed the enrichment of Geobacteraceae and Spirochaetaceae families, which were not detected at pH > 5.0.
The second part of the study explored the effectiveness of different removal techniques for the treatment of SeO42- with co-contaminants. Comparing the SeO42- removal performance in the presence of SO42- in a biotrickling filter (BTF) and UASB reactor revealed that SO42- largely influenced the attached biofilm growth and increased SeO42- removal by > 200%. On the other hand, SeO42- removal was similar in the UASB reactor irrespective of the presence or absence of SO42-. Biomass characterization revealed the formation of spherical Se0 and poly-selenium sulfide in the biomass of both bioreactors. Addition of Ni in both bioreactors led to a decrease in SO42- and SeO42- removal performance by ~ 20-30%. Ni removal was > 80% in both bioreactors. Ni was removed via nickel sulfide precipitation. Evaluation of integrated process system for SeO42- and SO42- removal was conducted by coupling an ion exchange column (IX) and UASB bioreactor, using IX as either a pre-treatment (IX → UASB) or post-treatment (UASB → IX) unit for the bioreactor. The pre-treatment process scheme showed a better overall removal efficiency of 99% SO42- and 94% total Se (Setot) reaching < 100 mg/L SO42-, < 0.3 mg Se/L Setot and < 0.02 mg Se/L dissolved Se in the effluent over 42 days of continuous operation.