Anaerobic biodegradation of dissolved ethanol in a pilot-scale sand aquifer: Variability in plume (redox) biogeochemistry
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The use of ethanol in alternative fuels has led to contamination of groundwater with high concentrations of this easily biodegradable organic compound. Previous laboratory and field studies have shown vigorous biodegradation of ethanol plumes, with prevalence of reducing conditions and methanogenesis. The objective of this study was to further our understanding of the dynamic biogeochemistry processes, especially dissolved gas production, that may occur in developing and aging plume cores at sites with ethanol or other organic contamination of groundwater. The experiment performed involved highly-detailed spatial and temporal monitoring of ethanol biodegradation in a 2-dimensional (175cm high×525cm long) sand aquifer tank for 330days, with a vertical shift in plume position and increased nutrient inputs occurring at ~Day 100. Rapid onset of fermentation, denitrification, sulphate-reduction and iron(III)-reduction occurred following dissolved ethanol addition, with the eventual widespread development of methanogenesis. The detailed observations also demonstrate a redox zonation that supports the plume fringe concept, secondary reactions resulting from a changing/moving plume, and time lags for the various biodegradation processes. Additional highlights include: i) the highest dissolved H2 concentrations yet reported for groundwater, possibly linked to vigorous fermentation in the absence of common terminal electron-acceptors (i.e., dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and sulphate, and iron(III)-minerals) and methanogenesis; ii) evidence of phosphorus nutrient limitation, which stalled ethanol biodegradation and perhaps delayed the onset of methanogenesis; and iii) the occurrence of dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium, which has not been reported for ethanol biodegradation to date.