Types of bioremediation (Bioremediation strategies)
Different types of bioremediation techniques are employed depending on the degree of saturation and aeration of an area.
- In-situ techniques are defined as those applied to soil and groundwater at the site with minimal disturbance.
- Ex-situ techniques are applied to soil and groundwater at the site removed from the site via excavation (soil) or pumping (water).
- Bioaugmentation techniques involve the addition of microorganisms with the ability to degrade pollutants.
1. In-situ bioremediation techniques
These techniques are generally the most desirable options due to lower cost and less disturbance since they provide the treatment to avoid excavation and transport of contaminants. In situ treatment is limited by the depth of the soil that can be effectively treated.
In many soils, effective oxygen diffusion for desirable bioremediation rates extends to a range of only a few centimetres to about 30 cm into the soil. However, depths of 60 cm and greater have been effectively treated in some cases. The most important land treatments are:
It is the most common in situ treatment and involves supplying air and nutrients through wells to contaminated soil to stimulate the indigenous bacteria. Bioventing employs low airflow rates and provides only the amount of oxygen necessary for biodegradation while minimizing volatilization and releasing contaminants to the atmosphere. It works for simple hydrocarbons and can be used where the contamination is deep under the surface.
In situ biodegradation involves supplying oxygen and nutrients by circulating aqueous solutions through contaminated soils to stimulate naturally occurring bacteria to degrade organic contaminants. It can be used for soil and groundwater. Generally, this technique includes conditions such as the infiltration of water-containing nutrients and oxygen or other electron acceptors for groundwater treatment.
Biosparging involves injecting air under pressure below the water table to increase groundwater oxygen concentrations and enhance the rate of biological degradation of contaminants by naturally occurring bacteria.
Biosparging increases the mixing in the saturated zone and thereby increases the contact between soil and groundwater. The ease and low cost of installing small-diameter air injection points allow considerable flexibility in the design and construction of the system.
Bioremediation frequently involves the addition of microorganisms indigenous or exogenous to the contaminated sites. Two factors limit the use of added microbial cultures in a land treatment unit:
- Nonindigenous cultures rarely compete well enough with an indigenous population to develop and sustain useful population levels and
- Most soils with long-term exposure to biodegradable waste have indigenous microorganisms that are effective degrades if the land treatment unit is well managed.
2. Ex-situ bioremediation techniques
These techniques involve the excavation or removal of contaminated soil from the ground.
Landfarming is a simple technique in which contaminated soil is excavated and spread over a prepared bed, and periodically tilled until pollutants are degraded. The goal is to stimulate indigenous biodegradative microorganisms and facilitate their aerobic degradation of contaminants.
In general, the practice is limited to the treatment of superficial 10–35 cm of soil. Since landfarming has the potential to reduce monitoring and maintenance costs, as well as clean-up liabilities, it has received much attention as a disposal alternative.
Composting is a technique that involves combining contaminated soil with nonhazardous organic amendments such as manure or agricultural wastes. These organic materials support the development of a rich microbial population and elevated temperature characteristic of composting.
Biopiles are a hybrid of landfarming and composting. Essentially, engineered cells are constructed as aerated composted piles. Typically used to treat surface contamination with petroleum hydrocarbons, they are a refined version of landfarming that tends to control the physical losses of the contaminants by leaching and volatilization. Biopiles provide a favorable environment for indigenous aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms.
Slurry reactors or aqueous reactors treat contaminated soil and water pumped up from a toxic plume. Bioremediation in reactors involves processing contaminated solid material (soil, sediment, sludge) or water through an engineered containment system.
A slurry bioreactor may be defined as a containment vessel and apparatus used to create a three-phase (solid, liquid, and gas) mixing condition to increase the bioremediation rate of soil-bound and water-soluble pollutants as a water slurry of the contaminated soil and biomass (usually indigenous microorganisms) capable of degrading target contaminants.
In general, the rate and extent of biodegradation are greater in a bioreactor system than in situ or in solid-phase systems because the contained environment is more manageable and hence more controllable and predictable. Despite the advantages of reactor systems, there are some disadvantages.
The contaminated soil requires pre-treatment (e.g., excavation). Alternatively, the contaminant can be stripped from the soil via soil washing or physical extraction (e.g., vacuum extraction) before being placed in a bioreactor. Table 4 summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of bioremediation.