pH and Organic Carbon Dose Rates Control Microbially Driven Bioremediation Efficacy in Alkaline Bauxite Residue
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Bioremediation of alkaline tailings, based on fermentative microbial metabolisms, is a novel strategy for achieving rapid pH neutralization and thus improving environmental outcomes associated with mining and refining activities. Laboratory-scale bioreactors containing bauxite residue (an alkaline, saline tailings material generated as a byproduct of alumina refining), to which a diverse microbial inoculum was added, were used in this study to identify key factors (pH, salinity, organic carbon supply) controlling the rates and extent of microbially driven pH neutralization (bioremediation) in alkaline tailings. Initial tailings pH and organic carbon dose rates both significantly affected bioremediation extent and efficiency with lower minimum pHs and higher extents of pH neutralization occurring under low initial pH or high organic carbon conditions. Rates of pH neutralization (up to 0.13 mM H+ produced per day with pH decreasing from 9.5 to ≤6.5 in three days) were significantly higher in low initial pH treatments. Representatives of the Bacillaceae and Enterobacteriaceae, which contain many known facultative anaerobes and fermenters, were identified as key contributors to 2,3-butanediol and/or mixed acid fermentation as the major mechanism(s) of pH neutralization. Initial pH and salinity significantly influenced microbial community successional trajectories, and microbial community structure was significantly related to markers of fermentation activity. This study provides the first experimental demonstration of bioremediation in bauxite residue, identifying pH and organic carbon dose rates as key controls on bioremediation efficacy, and will enable future development of bioreactor technologies at full field scale.
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