Inhibition of anaerobic wastewater treatment after long-term exposure to low levels of CuO nanoparticles

Lila Otero-González, Jim A. Field, Reyes Sierra-Alvarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


CuO nanoparticles (NPs) are released into wastewater due to the widespread use and generation as by-product in various applications (e.g. semiconductor manufacturing). However, information on the behavior and impact of CuO NPs on wastewater treatment processes is very limited. The objective of this study was to evaluate the fate and long-term effect of CuO NPs (average size=37nm) on high-rate anaerobic bioreactors. A laboratory-scale upflow anaerobic sludge blanket reactor was operated with a synthetic wastewater containing low concentrations of CuO NPs (1.4mgCuL-1) and a mixture of volatile fatty acids for 107 days. CuO NPs were largely removed during anaerobic treatment and on the average only 20-32% of the NPs fed to the reactor escaped with the effluent. Scanning electron microscopy and chemical analysis confirmed that CuO NPs were partitioned into the anaerobic sludge. While short-term exposure to CuO NPs (1.4mgCuL-1) only caused minor inhibition to methanogenesis, extended exposure caused severe toxicity and reduced the acetoclastic methanogenic activity by more than 85%. Moreover, the reactor performance was completely disrupted and the methane production decreased by more than 50%. The study is the first to demonstrate a significant long-term effect of low levels of CuO NPs on methanogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-168
Number of pages9
JournalWater research
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014


  • Copper oxide
  • Engineered nanomaterials
  • Methanogenesis
  • Nanoparticle removal
  • Toxicity
  • UASB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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