The Rhodes BioSURE process and the use of sustainability indicators in the development of biological mine water treatment

by Neba, A.

Abstract (Summary)
Polluted waters, arising from extensive past and ongoing mining operations in South Africa, pose serious environmental threats to the limited fresh water resource. The long time periods, of decades to centuries, over which decanting mine waters may be expected to flow raises additional concerns about the sustainability of these resources. Responses to the problem have thus increasingly been directed towards the long-term sustainability of mine water treatment technologies (MWTT) as a critical indicator in both their research and development, and application. Bioprocess treatments have been considered in this regard and, among these, the Rhodes BioSURE Process has been investigated in preliminary studies using complex organic carbon wastes as the carbon source and electron donor for the central sulphate reduction unit operation.

Although both the mining industry and the related statutory/regulatory authority in South Africa share public commitment to sustainability in the treatment of mine waters, no systematic mechanism has emerged to enable the application of sustainability thinking as a guiding principle in the selection and application of MWTTs, nor in the research and development undertaking. This study undertook the development of a Sustainability Indicator Framework in order to provide a systematic basis for the incorporation of sustainability objectives in MWTT bioprocess development, and specifically to use this framework as an input to the investigation of the scaleup development of the Rhodes BioSURE Process.

In the development of the MWTT Sustainability Indicator Framework, an initial survey of industry thinking in this area was undertaken and, based on these outcomes, a detailed questionnaire methodology was developed in order to identify and quantify critical sustainability indicators. These included analysis of environmental, economic, social and technical indicators used in sustainability accounting practice in the industry. Statutory/regulatory sustainability targets in the same categories were derived from State of the Environment Reports (SoER) from Provincial authorities where mining is undertaken in South Africa. A synthesis of industry and SoER values was derived from weighted averages and the Sustainability Indicator Framework based on these outcomes. A Conceptual Decision-Support System, to guide the selection and development of MWTTs, was proposed and also based on these results.

In the development of the Rhodes BioSURE Process the use of primary sludge (PS) had been investigated as a potential complex carbon and electron donor source. In this regard the utility operator, and sewage treatment process infrastructure, was identified as potentially meeting aspects of the sustainability objectives identified for MWTT application development. Both the Sustainability Indicator Framework and the Conceptual Decision-Support System provided inputs in the formulation of the experimental programme relating to the scale-up development of the Rhodes BioSURE Process.

Based on these outcomes, a series of single- and multi-stage reactor configuration, optimisation and enzymology studies were undertaken at bench-, pilot- and technical-scale operations. These units were operated at hydraulic retention times (HRT) ranging between 22 to 72 hours and at chemical oxygen demand to sulphate ratios (COD:SO[subscript 4]) ranging between 1:1 to 2:1. Studies undertaken in fed-batch, bench-scale reactors confirmed the preliminary feasibility of using established sewage treatment infrastructure as a replacement for novel reactor configurations that had been used in the initial studies. The results further indicated that the hydrolysis of PS occurred at different rates under biosulphidogenic conditions in the different reactor configurations investigated.

Scale-up of these findings in multi-stage pilot- (7.4m[superscript 3]) and technical-scale plants (680m[superscript 3]) showed comparable performances between the unit operations in terms of SO[subscript 4] and COD removal. These results indicated no apparent advantages in the uncoupling of hydrolysis and sulphate reduction in separate unit operations as had been suggested in previous studies. Scale-down/scale-up studies were undertaken in a continuously fed single-stage reactor configuration and showed that the process could be effectively operated in this way.

Previous proposals that chemical and biological gradients established in the sludge bed of the Recycling Sludge Bed Reactor (RSBR) exercised an influence on the rates of substrate hydrolysis were investigated and the relative activity of ?- and ?-glucosidase and protease enzymes was measured. Results provided additional support for this hypothesis and it was shown that enzyme assay may also provide a useful tool in process development and monitoring studies.

While sulphide recovery, following the sulphate reduction step in the BioSURE Process, was not investigated as a component of this study, the treatment of final effluent or waste spills was identified as an important sustainability requirement given the toxicity of sulphide to human and ecosystem environments. A conventional trickle filter reactor system was evaluated for this purpose and showed close to 100% oxidation to sulphate in a short contact time operating regime. Although residual COD removal was low at ~20% of influent, it is considered that high rate recycle biofilter operation could achieve the COD discharge standard of 75 mg/l.

The results of the above studies provided inputs into the design, construction and commissioning of the first full-scale commercial application of the Rhodes BioSURE Process for mine wastewater treatment using sewage sludge as the carbon and electron donor source. An adjacent mine and sewage works have been linked by pipeline and an operational capacity of 10 Ml/day water treated has been established with sulphate reduced from ~1300mg/l to <200mg/l. These developments constitute a novel contribution in the mine waste water treatment field.

Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:biochemistry microbiology biotechnology


Date of Publication:01/01/2007

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