The Role of Biofilm Growth in Bacteria-Facilitated Contaminant Transport in Porous Media

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Groundwater contaminants adhered to colloid surfaces may migrate to greater distances than predicted by using the conventional advective-dispersive transport equation. Introduction of exogenous bacteria in a bioremediation operation or mobilization of indigenous bacteria in groundwater aquifers can enhance the transport of contaminants in groundwater by reducing the retardation effects. Because of their colloidal size and favorable surface conditions, bacteria can be efficient contaminant carriers. In cases where contaminants have low mobility because of their high partition with aquifer solids, facilitated contaminant transport by mobile bacteria can create high contaminant fluxes. In this paper, we developed a methodology to describe the bacteria-facilitated contaminant transport in a subsurface environment using the biofilm theory. The model is based on mass balance equations for bacteria and contaminant. The contaminant is utilized as a substrate for bacterial growth. Bacteria are attached to solid surfaces as a biofilm. We investigate the role of the contaminant adsorption on both biofilm and mobile bacteria on groundwater contaminant transport. Also, the effect of bacterial injection on the contaminant transport is evaluated in the presence of indigenous bacteria in porous media. The model was solved numerically and validated by experimental data reported in the literature. Sensitivity analyses were conducted to deduce the effect of critical model parameters. Results show that biofilm grows rapidly near the top of the column where the bacteria and contaminant are injected, and is detached by increasing fluid shear stress and re-attach downstream. The adsorption of contaminant on bacterial surfaces reduces contaminant mobility remarkably in the presence of a biofilm. The contaminant concentration decreases significantly along the biofilm when contaminant partition into bacteria. Bacterial injection and migration in subsurface environments can be important in bioremediation operations regardless of the presence of indigenous bacteria.

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