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Stratification and Oxidation–Reduction Potential Change in an Aerobic and Sulfate-Reducing Biofilm Studied Using Microelectrodes

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Recent studies in aerobic–nitrifying biofilms demonstrated the heterogeneity of biofilms used in wastewater treatment and led to modifications of the homogeneous assumptions in the conventional biofilm kinetic models. However, the stratification in aerobic–anaerobic biofilms has not been well investigated because of a lack of effective experimental tools. In this study a suite of microelectrodes, recently developed in the authors' laboratory, was used to examine the stratification of microbial processes and the change of oxidation–reduction potential (ORP) within an aerobic, sulfate-reducing biofilm. The microelectrodes have tip diameters of 3 to 20 μm and a high spatial resolution. They were used to measure the profiles of oxygen, total dissolved sulfide, ORP, and pH as a function of depth in the biofilm. The biofilm reactor was used to treat an azo-dye-containing wastewater with a chemical oxygen demand of 160 mg/L. The reactor bulk-phase dissolved oxygen concentration of the biofilm was 1.7 mg/L. The experimental results demonstrated that the microbial processes in the biofilm were stratified. In this biofilm, aerobic oxidation took place only in a shallow layer of 0.55 mm near the surface and sulfate reduction occurred in the deeper anoxic zone. The ORP changed with the shift of primary microbial process. The ORP was + 362 mV at the biofilm surface and −166 mV near the substratum. Near the interface between the aerobic zone and the sulfate reduction zone, a surprisingly sharp decrease of ORP from a positive potential of 1 194 mV to a negative potential of 2 77 mV was observed. This occurred within a narrow band of 50 μm in depth. These new experimental findings support the concept of stratification of microbial processes and the associated ORP change in biofilms.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 2001

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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