Anaerobic bioremediation of hexavalent uranium in groundwater by reductive precipitation with methanogenic granular sludge

Aida Tapia-Rodriguez, Antonia Luna-Velasco, Jim A. Field, Reyes Sierra-Alvarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Uranium has been responsible for extensive contamination of groundwater due to releases from mill tailings and other uranium processing waste. Past evidence has confirmed that certain bacteria can enzymatically reduce soluble hexavalent uranium (U(VI)) to insoluble tetravalent uranium (U(IV)) under anaerobic conditions in the presence of appropriate electron donors. This paper focuses on the evaluation of anaerobic granular sludge as a source of inoculum for the bioremediation of uranium in water. Batch experiments were performed with several methanogenic anaerobic granular sludge samples and different electron donors. Abiotic controls consisting of heat-killed inoculum and non-inoculated treatments confirmed the biological removal process. In this study, unadapted anaerobic granular sludge immediately reduced U(VI), suggesting an intrinsic capacity of the sludge to support this process. The high biodiversity of anaerobic granular sludge most likely accounts for the presence of specific microorganisms capable of reducing U(VI). Oxidation by O2 was shown to resolubilize the uranium. This observation combined with X-ray diffraction evidence of uraninite confirmed that the removal during anaerobic treatment was due to reductive precipitation. The anaerobic removal activity could be sustained after several respikes of U(VI). The U(VI) removal was feasible without addition of electron donors, indicating that the decay of endogenous biomass substrates was contributing electron equivalents to the process. Addition of electron donors, such as H2 stimulated the removal of U(VI) to varying degrees. The stimulation was greater in sludge samples with lower endogenous substrate levels. The present work reveals the potential application of anaerobic granular sludge for continuous bioremediation schemes to treat uranium-contaminated water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2153-2162
Number of pages10
JournalWater research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Bioreduction
  • Radionuclide
  • Reductive precipitation
  • UASB
  • Uraninite
  • Uranium reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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