Anaerobic biodegradation of dissolved ethanol in a pilot-scale sand aquifer: Gas phase dynamics Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Groundwater contamination from ethanol (e.g., alternative fuels) can support vigorous biodegradation, with many possible reactions producing dissolved gases. The objective of this study was to improve the understanding of the development and evolution of trapped gas phase changes occurring within an ethanol plume undergoing biodegradation. The experiment performed involved highly detailed spatial and temporal monitoring of gas phase saturations using Time Domain Reflectometry probes embedded in a 2-dimensional (175 cm high × 525 cm long) synthetic aquifer (homogeneous sand tank with horizontal groundwater flow). Ethanol injection immediately promoted gas-producing reactions, including: fermentation, denitrification, sulphate-reduction and iron(III)-reduction, with methanogenesis developing between 69 and 109 days. Substantial in situ increases in trapped gas were observed over ~330 days, with maximum gas saturations reaching 27% of the pore volume. Despite sustained gas production, this maximum was never exceeded, likely due to the onset of gas phase mobilization (i.e., ebullition) upon reaching a buoyancy-capillarity threshold. Reductions in the quasi-saturated hydraulic conductivity, resulting from the gas phase accumulation, were restricted by ebullition to a factor of ≤2; but still appeared to alter the groundwater flow field. Overall, trapped gas saturations exhibited high spatial and temporal variability, including declines within the plume and increases outside of the plume. Influential factors included vertically-shifting ethanol inputs and resultant secondary redox reactions, microbial controls on redox zonation, ebullition, and altered groundwater flows. These observations have implications for the transport of gases and volatile compounds within plumes and above the water table at sites with groundwater contamination from ethanol or other highly degradable organics.

publication date

  • August 2018