An In Situ Bioreactor for the Treatment of Petroleum Hydrocarbons in Groundwater



Two pilot tests of an aerobic in situ bioreactor (ISBR) have been conducted at field sites contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons. The two sites differed with respect to hydrocarbon concentrations. At one site, concentrations were low but persistent, and at the other site concentrations were high enough to be inhibitory to biodegradation. The ISBR unit is designed to enhance biodegradation of hydrocarbons by stimulating indigenous microorganisms. This approach builds on existing Bio-Sep® bead technology, which provides a matrix that can be rapidly colonized by the active members of the microbial community and serves to concentrate indigenous degraders. Oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the bioreactor to maintain conditions favorable for growth and reproduction, and contaminated groundwater is treated as it is circulated through the bed of Bio-Sep® beads. Groundwater moving through the system also transports degraders released from Bio-Sep® beads away from the bioreactor, potentially increasing biodegradation rates throughout the aquifer.

Groundwater sampling, Bio-Traps, and molecular biological tools were used to assess ISBR performance during the two pilot tests. Groundwater monitoring indicated that contaminant concentrations decreased at both sites, and the microbial data suggested that these decreases were due to degradation by indigenous microorganisms rather than dilution or dispersion mechanisms. Taken together, these lines of evidence showed that the ISBR system effectively increased the number and activity of indigenous microbial degraders and enhanced bioremediation at the test sites. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.