Mining of uranium for defense-related purposes has left a substantial legacy of pollution that threatens human and environmental health. Contaminated waters in the arid southwest are of particular concern, as water resource demand and water scarcity issues become more pronounced. The development of remediation strategies to treat uranium impacted waters will become increasingly vital to meet future water needs. Ion flotation is one technology with the potential to address legacy uranium contamination. The green biosurfactant rhamnolipid has been shown to bind uranium and act as an effective collector in ion flotation. In this study, uranium contaminated groundwater (∼440 μg L−1 U) from the Monument Valley processing site in northeast Arizona was used as a model solution to test the uranium removal efficacy of ion flotation with biosynthetic (bio-mRL) and three synthetic monorhamnolipids with varying hydrophobic chain lengths: Rha-C10-C10, Rha-C12-C12, and Rha-C14-C14. At the groundwater's native pH 8, and at an adjusted pH 7, no uranium was removed from solution by any collector. However, at pH 6.5 bio-mRL and Rha-C10-C10 removed 239.2 μg L−1 and 242.4 μg L−1 of uranium, respectively. By further decreasing the pH to 5.5, bio-mRL was able to reduce the uranium concentration to near or below the Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level of 30 μg L−1. For the Rha-C12-C12 and Rha-C14-C14 collector ligands, decreasing the pH to 7 or below reduced the foam stability and quantity, such that these collectors were not suitable for treating this groundwater. To contextualize the results, a geochemical analysis of the groundwater was conducted, and a consideration of uranium speciation is described. Based on this study, the efficacy of monorhamnolipid-based ion flotation in real world groundwater has been demonstrated with suitable solution conditions and collectors identified.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Engineering
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law