Sulfate Reduction and Metal Ion Precipitation

Sulfate-reducing bacteria are biotechnologically relevant to sulfate removal or heavy metal precipitation in wastewater or waste and to the elimination of SO2 during offgas purification. An overview of applications of sulfate-reducing microorganisms in environmental biotechnology is given by Lens et al. (2002). Sulfate is the terminal electron acceptor and is reduced to sulfide, with reducing equivalents derived from the degradation of lactic acid or many other organic compounds (Widdel, 1988). Alternatively, some sulfate reducers can also use molecular hydrogen. Sulfate reducers gain energy in an anaerobic electron transport chain (Hansen, 1994), leading to sulfide, a weak dibasic acid, which dissociates according to Eq. 35.

The total dissociation is described by Eq. 36:

For precipitation of heavy metal ions, sulfide ions are necessary (Eq. 37):

The concentration of sulfide is pH-dependent. At acid pH only those metal sulfides of very low solubility can be precipitated. Thus, at acid pH, HgS, As2S3, CdS, CuS, and PbS form precipitates, whereas at a more alkaline pH, ZnS, FeS, NiS, and MnS form precipitates. Al2S3 and Cr2S3 are water soluble and cannot be removed by precipitation or sedimentation. Zinc removal from zinc-contaminated groundwater by microbial sulfate reduction and zinc sulfide precipitation in a 9-m3 sludge blanket reactor was demonstrated and has been transferred to a full scale reactor of 1800 m3 (White and Gadd, 1996).

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