Upper and lower concentration thresholds for bioremediation of Acid Mine Drainage using bulk organic substrates
Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Natural Sciences/Mine Water and Environment Research Centre
Acidic pit lakes can form in open cut mine voids that extend below the groundwater table. The aim of this research was to determine what bulk organic material concentrations best stimulated sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB) for acid mine drainage (AMD) treatment within a pit lake. An experiment was carried out to assess the effect of different substrate concentrations of sewage sludge on AMD bioremediation efficiency. Experimental microcosms were made of 300 mm long and 100 mm wide acrylic cores, with a total volume of 1.8 L. Four different concentrations of sewage sludge (ranging from 30 to 120 g/L) were tested. As the sewage sludge concentration increased, the bioremediation efficiency also increased, reflecting the higher organic carbon concentrations. Sewage sludge contributed alkaline materials that directly neutralised the AMD in proportion to the quantity added and therefore played a primary role in stimulating SRB bioremediation. The lowest concentration of sewage sludge (30 g/L) tested proved to be inadequate for effective SRB bioremediation. However, there were no measurable beneficial effects on SRB bioremediation efficiency when sewage sludge was added at concentrations ˃60 g/L. We compared our results with existing literature data to develop a conceptual model for remediation of AMD in pit lakes through organic material amendments. The model indicated that labile organic carbon availability was more important to the bioremediation rate than AMD strength, so long as iron and sulphate concentrations were not limiting. The conceptual model also indicates that bioremediation may still occur when only low concentrations of organic carbon are present in the pit lakes, albeit at a very slow rate. The model also demonstrates the presence of an organic material amendment threshold where excess organic carbon does not measurably influence the final outcome. The conceptual model defined is well supported by the results of the microcosm experiment.