Mathew Frankel1, Andrei Veksha2, Raymond Turner1, Josephine Hill2, Robert Helleur3.
1Biofilm Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
2Laboratory for Environmental Catalytic Applications, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
3Department of Chemistry, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
Open-pit oil sands operations in Alberta are transitioning to their end of life, thus, it is in the interest of operators to find economical ways to effectively reclaim tailings ponds. Wastewater treatment technologies have been using adsorption for the removal of contaminants, and some enhance treatment by utilizing microbial metabolic processes for immobilization and/or degradation. While activated carbon (AC) has long been used as a proven adsorbent, its cost is restrictive to widespread use. Biochars, on the other hand, can provide comparable adsorption as ACs for a fraction of the price. Here, we tested the ability of multispecies cultures, from an oil sands wastewater inoculum, to attach and proliferate on biochar using industrial waste products. We found microbial attachment on all support materials. Differences were seen in which materials facilitate growth, with biochars showing significant proliferation of biomass over commercial grade activated carbon. Our assays demonstrated that microbes utilized carbon substrates provided by our media, as opposed to the carbon from our support materials, for growth and reproduction. This suggests that Alberta oil sands operators can utilize wastes from local industries (i.e. sawmills, pulp mills) to enhance their reclamation activities, such as for pond capping, contaminant adsorption, and support microbial growth for biosorption and/or degradation. This would be an economic and environmental benefit to oil sands development, and help the province of Alberta to meet sustainability and GHG goals.