Microbiological selenate to selenite conversion for selenium removal

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Removal of the toxic selenium compounds selenite and selenate from waste water before discharge is becoming increasingly imperative in industrialized countries. Bacteria can reduce selenate to selenite, but also further to elemental selenium, selenide or organic selenium. In this paper, we aim to exclusively bio-reduce selenate to selenite in an open high-rate bioreactor. This conversion could be part of a two-stage process in which the selenite is subsequently reduced by chemical means under optimal conditions to produce a biomass-free selenium product. In the process, yield and reduction rate of biological selenate to selenite should be maximized, while formation of elemental selenium, selenide and organic selenium compounds should be avoided. Fed-batch experiments with a liquid volume of 0.25–0.75 L at different temperatures 20–30–40–50 °C, pH settings 6–7–8–9, initial biomass concentration of 1 or 5 g wet weight granular Eerbeek sludge and various lactic acid concentrations were performed to determine their effect on the biological conversion of selenate to selenite. Furthermore, the effect on selenite losses by further biological reduction or, if present, chemical reduction was investigated as well. Optimal selenate reduction to selenite was found at 30 °C and pH 6 or 7 or 8 with 25 mM selenate and 13.75 mM lactic acid in the influent, with a selenite yield of 79–95%. In all the other conditions, less selenate was reduced to selenite. Also a 5 times higher electron donor concentration resulted in less selenite production, with only 22% of the selenate converted to selenite. The high yield and the high biological reduction rate of at least 741 mg Se/g initial VSS/day detected in the 1 g initial biomass experiment implicate that biological selenate conversion to selenite is a feasible process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2118-2128
JournalWater Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • anaerobic granular sludge
  • waste-water
  • reduction
  • bacteria
  • reactors


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