Biological treatment of heavy metals in acid mine drainage using sulfate reducing bioreactors

R. Sierra-Alvarez, S. Karri, S. Freeman, Jim A. Field

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The uncontrolled release of acid mine drainage (AMD) from abandoned mines and tailing piles threatens water resources in many sites worldwide. AMD introduces elevated concentrations of sulfate ions and dissolved heavy metals as well as high acidity levels to groundwater and receiving surface water. Anaerobic biological processes relying on the activity of sulfate reducing bacteria are being considered for the treatment of AMD and other heavy metal containing effluents. Biogenic sulfides form insoluble complexes with heavy metals resulting in their precipitation. The objective of this study was to investigate the remediation of AMD in sulfate reducing bioreactors inoculated with anaerobic granular sludge and fed with an influent containing ethanol. Biological treatment of an acidic (pH 4.0) synthetic AMD containing high concentrations of heavy metals (100 mg Cu2+l-1; 10 mg Ni2+l-1, 10 mg Zn2+l-1) increased the effluent pH level to 7.0-7.2 and resulted in metal removal efficiencies exceeding 99.2%. The highest metal precipitation rates attained for Cu, Ni and Zn averaged 92.5, 14.6 and 15.8 mg metal l-1 of reactor d-1. The results of this work demonstrate that an ethanol-fed sulfidogenic reactor was highly effective to remove heavy metal contamination and neutralized the acidity of the synthetic wastewater.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-185
Number of pages7
JournalWater Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006


  • Copper
  • Metal precipitation
  • Nickel
  • Sulfate reducing bacteria
  • Sulfide
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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