Technical note: Development of a Linear Flow Channel Reactor for sulphur removal in acid mine wastewater treatment operations
Where sulphate removal is targeted in the biological treatment of acid mine drainage wastewaters, a step additional to sulphate reduction is required to prevent the complete oxidation of sulphide back to sulphate. This linearisation of the biological sulphur cycle has presented a technological bottleneck, particularly in passive treatment operations. We report an investigation of sulphur production in floating sulphur biofilms as a means for addressing this problem. These 50 μm to 500 μm structures may be seen to form on the surface of sulphidic, organic waters and in which sulphide is partly oxidised to So and polysulphide. A Linear Flow Channel Reactor was developed in which the formation of the floating sulphur biofilm could be optimised and studied under controlled conditions. In this study the sulphide feed was sourced from a lignocellulose packed bed reactor treating a synthetic acid mine water (2 000 mg∙ℓ-1 Na2SO4 solution) and the Liner Flow Channel Reactors (surface area 1.1 m2 and 2.2 m2) were operated in a controlled environment chamber. The floating sulphur biofilm was harvested by settling to the bottom of the reactor where it remained largely unreacted until removed. It was shown that up to 88% of sulphide in the feed stream may be removed in this way and that this was achieved mainly by oxidation of sulphide to sulphur (including a polysulphide fraction). A mass balance accounting for the process showed that up to 66% of total sulphur species entering the system were recovered as So. Oxidation of sulphide to thiosulphate and sulphate was not found to be significant. A fraction of fine particulate sulphur is released into the stream on harvesting of the biofilm which does not readily settle in the reactor and may thus be lost to the mass balance account. The effects of temperature, loading rate and reactor surface area were investigated in optimising the performance of the reactor. Scale-up application studies in the use of the Linear Flow Channel Reactor in an acid mine drainage passive treatment environment have been undertaken in field studies.
Keywords: floating sulphur biofilms, acid mine drainage, AMD passive treatment, linear flow channel reactor, sulphur biotechnology