The increasing use of biobased fuels and fuel additives can potentially change the typical fuel-related contamination in soil and groundwater. Anaerobic biotransformation of the biofuel additive ethyl tert-butyl ether (EtBE), as well as of methyl tert-butyl ether (MtBE), benzene, and tert-butyl alcohol (TBA, a possible oxygenate metabolite), was studied at an industrially contaminated site and in the laboratory. Analysis of groundwater samples indicated that in the field MtBE was degraded, yielding TBA as major product. In batch microcosms, MtBE was degraded under different conditions: unamended control, with medium without added electron acceptors, or with ferrihydrite or sulfate (with or without medium) as electron acceptor, respectively. Degradation of EtBE was not observed under any of these conditions tested. TBA was partially depleted in parallel with MtBE. Results of microcosm experiments with MtBE substrate analogues, i.e., syringate, vanillate, or ferulate, were in line with the hypothesis that the observed TBA degradation is a cometabolic process. Microcosms with ferulate, syringate, isopropanol, or diethyl ether showed EtBE depletion up to 86.5% of the initial concentration after 83 days. Benzene was degraded in the unamended controls, with medium without added electron acceptors and with ferrihydrite, sulfate, or chlorate as electron acceptor, respectively. In the presence of nitrate, benzene was only degraded after addition of an anaerobic benzene-degrading community. Nitrate and chlorate hindered MtBE, EtBE, and TBA degradation.
- Anaerobic degradation
- Electron acceptors