American Society of Civil Engineers


Initiation of MTBE Biotreatment in Fluidized-Bed Bioreactors


by William T. Stringfellow, (corresponding author), (Center for Envir. Biotechnol., Lawrence Berkeley Natl. Lab., Berkeley, CA 94720 E-mail: wstringfellow@lbl.gov) and Keun-Chan Oh, (Center for Envir. Biotechnol., Lawrence Berkeley Natl. Lab., Berkeley, CA 94720)

Journal of Environmental Engineering, Vol. 128, No. 9, September 2002, pp. 852-861, (doi:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9372(2002)128:9(852))

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Document type: Journal Paper
Abstract: Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) is one of the most common ground water pollutants in the United States. Although MTBE has been characterized as a recalcitrant pollutant, it is now established that MTBE is biodegradable. A few bacteria that can grow on MTBE as a carbon and energy source have been identified and a host of bacteria that can cometabolize MTBE are known. There is very little information available concerning the biological treatment of MTBE contaminated ground water, despite the strong interest in applying biological treatment to the decontamination of MTBE laden water. In this paper we examine the treatment of contaminated ground water using a fluidize-bed bioreactor. Field studies demonstrated that the initiation of MTBE biotreatment was unpredictable, with one reactor starting to degrade MTBE immediately and a second reactor never degrading any MTBE. Laboratory studies were conducted to determine if a cosubstrate could be used to reliably enrich MTBE metabolizing microorganisms from a variety of environmental samples. It was determined that a number of compounds could enrich MTBE degrading populations, but that iso-pentane was the most reliable cometabolite of the compounds tested. Iso-pentane was used to initiate MTBE biotreatment in a laboratory fluidized-bed bioreactor. It was found that MTBE biotreatment continues even after iso-pentane addition was halted, suggesting that bacteria can gain maintenance energy from MTBE degradation. The reactor started with iso-pentane was as efficient as MTBE biotreatment as a reactor that started MTBE degradation without cosubstrate addition.


ASCE Subject Headings:
Activated carbon
Biological processes
Gasoline
Groundwater
Hydrocarbons