Mechanisms of electron acceptor utilization: Implications for simulating anaerobic biodegradation

Journal of Contaminant Hydrology

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Simulation of biodegradation reactions within a reactive transport framework requires information on mechanisms of terminal electron acceptor processes (TEAPs). In initial modeling efforts, TEAPs were approximated as occurring sequentially, with the highest energy-yielding electron acceptors (e.g. oxygen) consumed before those that yield less energy (e.g., sulfate). Within this framework in a steady state plume, sequential electron acceptor utilization would theoretically produce methane at an organic-rich source and Fe(II) further downgradient, resulting in a limited zone of Fe(II) and methane overlap. However, contaminant plumes often display much more extensive zones of overlapping Fe(II) and methane. The extensive overlap could be caused by several abiotic and biotic processes including vertical mixing of byproducts in long-screened monitoring wells, adsorption of Fe(II) onto aquifer solids, or microscale heterogeneity in Fe(III) concentrations. Alternatively, the overlap could be due to simultaneous utilization of terminal electron acceptors. Because biodegradation rates are controlled by TEAPs, evaluating the mechanisms of electron acceptor utilization is critical for improving prediction of contaminant mass losses due to biodegradation. Using BioRedox-MT3DMS, a three-dimensional, multi-species reactive transport code, we simulated the current configurations of a BTEX plume and TEAP zones at a petroleum- contaminated field site in Wisconsin. Simulation results suggest that BTEX mass loss due to biodegradation is greatest under oxygen-reducing conditions, with smaller but similar contributions to mass loss from biodegradation under Fe(III)-reducing, sulfate-reducing, and methanogenic conditions. Results of sensitivity calculations document that BTEX losses due to biodegradation are most sensitive to the age of the plume, while the shape of the BTEX plume is most sensitive to effective porosity and rate constants for biodegradation under Fe(III)-reducing and methanogenic conditions. Using this transport model, we had limited success in simulating overlap of redox products using reasonable ranges of parameters within a strictly sequential electron acceptor utilization framework. Simulation results indicate that overlap of redox products cannot be accurately simulated using the constructed model, suggesting either that Fe(III) reduction and methanogenesis are occurring simultaneously in the source area, or that heterogeneities in Fe(III) concentration and/or mineral type cause the observed overlap. Additional field, experimental, and modeling studies will be needed to address these questions. ?? 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Mechanisms of electron acceptor utilization: Implications for simulating anaerobic biodegradation
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Journal of Contaminant Hydrology
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