• Open Access

Selective removal of transition metals from acidic mine waters by novel consortia of acidophilic sulfidogenic bacteria

Authors

  • Ivan Ňancucheo,

    1. School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor LL57 2UW, UK.
    2. Agriculture of Desert and Biotechnology, Universidad Arturo Prat, Iquique, Chile.
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  • D. Barrie Johnson

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor LL57 2UW, UK.
      E-mail d.b.johnson@bangor.ac.uk; Tel. (+44) 1248 382358; Fax (+44) 1248 370731.
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E-mail d.b.johnson@bangor.ac.uk; Tel. (+44) 1248 382358; Fax (+44) 1248 370731.

Summary

Two continuous-flow bench-scale bioreactor systems populated by mixed communities of acidophilic sulfate-reducing bacteria were constructed and tested for their abilities to promote the selective precipitation of transition metals (as sulfides) present in synthetic mine waters, using glycerol as electron donor. The objective with the first system (selective precipitation of copper from acidic mine water containing a variety of soluble metals) was achieved by maintaining a bioreactor pH of ∼2.2–2.5. The second system was fed with acidic (pH 2.5) synthetic mine water containing 3 mM of both zinc and ferrous iron, and varying concentrations (0.5–30 mM) of aluminium. Selective precipitation of zinc sulfide was possible by operating the bioreactor at pH 4.0 and supplementing the synthetic mine water with 4 mM glycerol. Analysis of the microbial populations in the bioreactors showed that they changed with varying operational parameters, and novel acidophilic bacteria (including one sulfidogen) were isolated from the bioreactors. The acidophilic sulfidogenic bioreactors provided ‘proof of principle’ that segregation of metals present in mine waters is possible using simple online systems within which controlled pH conditions are maintained. The modular units are versatile and robust, and involve minimum engineering complexity.

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