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Anaerobic Biodegradation of Methyl tert-Butyl Ether Under Iron-Reducing Conditions in Batch and Continuous-Flow Cultures

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The feasibility of biodegradation of the fuel oxygenate methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) under iron-reducing conditions was explored in batch and continuous-flow systems. A porous pot completely-mixed reactor was seeded with diverse cultures and operated under iron-reducing conditions. For batch studies, culture from the reactor was transferred anaerobically to serum bottles containing either MTBE alone or MTBE with ethanol (EtOH) and excess electron acceptor. In the continuous-flow reactor, MTBE conversion to tert-butyl alcohol (TBA) was observed after 181 days of operation, and stable removal was achieved throughout the remainder of the study. Simultaneously, both the MTBE only and the MTBE and EtOH iron-reducing batch serum bottles also began to degrade MTBE. Bottles were respiked and the degradation rate was determined to be 2.36 ± 0.10 × 10−4 mmol MTBE/min-kgVSS. The EtOH present with MTBE degraded faster (7.76 ± 0.08 × 10−3 mmol EtOH/min-kg VSS) but did not have a noticeable effect on the rate of MTBE degradation. No evidence of TBA degradation was observed by the iron-reducing cultures. Stoichiometry of iron utilization was determined from the iron balance of the continuous-flow reactor, and it was found that the bulk of the electron acceptor was required for energy and maintenance with little remaining for cell synthesis. This is consistent with a yield coefficient of less than 0.1. Molecular analysis of the iron-reducing culture by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis indicated that uncultured strains of δ-Proteobacteria were dominant in the reactor.
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Keywords: Fuel-oxygenates; anaerobic biodegradation; ethanol; iron reduction; methyl tert-butyl ether

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 May 2005

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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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