Research Article: Enhanced biological removal of intermittent VOCs and deciphering the roles of sodium alginate and polyvinyl alcohol in biofilm formation

Date Published: May 22, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Rongfang Feng, Gang Zhao, Yonggang Yang, Meiying Xu, Shaobin Huang, Guoping Sun, Jun Guo, Jianjun Li, Yiguo Hong.


Developing a robust biofilm is a prerequisite for a biotrickling filter to obtain the good performance in removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). But the biofilm formation can be seriously disturbed under intermittent loading condition due to carbon starvation stress in idle time. In this study, a biotrickling filter, with its packing materials being modified by 3% sodium alginate and 5% polyvinyl alcohol (v/v = 1:3), was employed to treat intermittent VOCs. Results showed that the removal efficiencies of toluene, ethylbenzene, p-xylene, m-xylene, and o-xylene was significantly enhanced in the BTF compared to the control one. Under relatively lower inlet loading, nearly complete removal of the five pollutants was achieved. A quantitative analysis showed that the concentration of total organic compound (TOC) in the leachate maintained at a high level, and had a strongly positive correlation with the divergence of microbial communities. The capacity of biofilm formation in the BTF was approximately four-fold higher than the control BTF, while the quantity of EPS secreted was more than ten-fold. EPS comprised largely of protein, and to less extent, polysaccharide. The biofilm formed on the modified packing materials maintained higher levels of microbial diversity and stability, even when modifiers were complete depleted or the VOCs inlet loading was increased. This study highlights the importance of packing materials for reducing the gap in performance between laboratory and industrial applications of BTFs.

Partial Text

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) removal from waste gas with the use of biotrickling filters (BTFs) has received increasing attention because of its relative economy, high efficiency and stability [1–2]. These advantages are however only evident under relatively ideal conditions, such as a constant substrate supply and regular nutrient replenishment. In practice, industrial manufacturing releases VOCs intermittently due to shutdown at night and weekends or equipment maintenance. Qi and Moe (2006) reported significantly compromised performance of an intermittently-loaded biofilter compared to a continuous biofilter [3]. Similarly, other studies have suggested that the performance of BTFs in industrial application has been far lower than those used in laboratories [4].

The biological removal of mixed gases containing intermittent VOCs by biofiltration presents a major challenge [24], and improvement to existing methods have been rarely reported. Li and Moe (2005) tested the effectiveness of a hybrid biofilter column combined with a granular activated carbon (GAC) column and found that the GAC column efficiently buffered the peak inlet loading of mixed acetone and toluene, thereby sharply minimized the negative effect resulting from carbon starvation during the idle phase [25]. However, the aforementioned study only tested two components of VOCs, and VOCs removal efficiency was unreliable due to the selectivity of GAC on different components [26]. The present study aimed to simultaneously rapidly acclimate microorganisms and remove mixed VOCs under intermittent VOCs loading using a single biofilter column packed with modified polyurethane foam. Even though the modifiers were completely depleted after some time, biofilm had successfully formed and matured before that (Table 1). The mature biofilm formed within BTF2 is the leading cause of its superior removal performance throughout whole experimental time even when the VOCs inlet increased by 1.5-fold (Fig 1). The results of the present study show that polyurethane foam modified with a mixture of 3% sodium alginate and 5% polyvinyl alcohol presents a promising packing material for use in a bioreactor to remove intermittent VOCs in industrial application.

The present study mainly considered microbial biomarkers that were adhered on surfaces and the key environmental factors responsible. However, irreversible adhesion of cells onto surfaces is a key step during the formation and maturation of biofilm, and is affected by many factors including physical and chemical properties of the surfaces [15]. Physicochemical properties of packing materials, such as hydrophobicity, surface roughness and topography, should be taken into consideration in future research. In addition, biofilm formation is regulated by complex networks of genes, and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) of some functional genes may be explored to illuminate possible underlying mechanisms.




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