Perchloroethene, Biodegradation, Anaerobic, Aerobic, Methanogenic, Homoacetogenic, Sequential Environment


The objective of this study was to utilize an alternating anaerobic/aerobic sequence to biologically transform perchloroethylene to non-hazardous end products such as ethylene, CO2 and H2 using a single microbial consortia in a methanogenic and/or a homoacetogenic environment followed by a aerobic methanotrophic environment. Reductive dechlorination of PCE and TCE to cDCE and VC in an anaerobic environment is typically carried out by methanogens, sulfidogens, or homoacetogens but often (e.g. in-situ) leads to an accumulation of daughter compounds (cDCE, VC) which are more toxic than their parent compounds (PCE, TCE). Furthermore, PCE is resistant to degradation in aerobic environments while VC and cDCE are readily oxidized co-metabolically by aerobic methanotrophic bacteria, among others. In order to achieve complete mineralization of chlorinated solvents using a biotic system, an anaerobic/aerobic treatment strategy was investigated. This strategy has been accomplished successfully at a lab scale with anaerobic and aerobic reactors in series, and in-situ anaerobic zones with downgradient aerobic zones have been proposed in the field. In contrast, the focus of this research was to expose single mixed microbial consortia to sequential anaerobic/aerobic treatments in order to determine if reductive dechlorination could be sustained following aerobic phases of treatment. If possible this would imply that the anaerobic and aerobic zones (in-situ) or reactors (ex-situ) would not necessarily have to be spatially separated. In pure or dilute cultures where soil material is not present strict anaerobes would typically not resume metabolic activity if exposed to frequent aerobic phases of treatment. However in aquifer material or reactors with large floc/granules it might be possible due to the protection of anaerobic micro-environments as a result of diffusion limitations. Microcosms contained in sealed 120-mL serum bottles were used to generate experimental data including autoclaved abiotic controls with mercuric chloride. Inocula for these microcosms come from a several sources, including anaerobic digester sludge, soils, and contaminated aquifers. Once an experimental microcosm showed signs of reductive dechlorination, an aerobic treatment was implemented. The anaerobic phase of the microcosm was interrupted with a short duration aerobic phase. Headspace air or hydrogen peroxide addition was used to supply oxygen. Analytical data from the experiments indicated that anaerobic reductive dechlorination was readily accomplished during anaerobic phase experiments as PCE was sequentially dechlorinated to TCE and then to cDCE as reported in previous research reported by others in the literature. Additionally, a few mixed consortia microcosms showed evidence of further reductive dechlorination to VC and ethylene. During the sequential environment experiments, analytical data also indicated that reductive dechlorination also resumed after an aerobic sequence utilizing hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizer in the microcosm. No conclusive evidence was observed to indicate that aerobic degradation of cDCE during any of the aerobic phase treatments. This was probably due to the inocula not containing methanotrophs.


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Graduation Date





Randall, Andrew


Master of Science in Environmental Engineering (M.S.Env.E.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Civil and Environmental Engineering

Degree Program

Environmental Engineering








Release Date

December 2004

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)