Microbially enhanced dissolution and reductive dechlorination of PCE by a mixed culture: Model validation and sensitivity analysis

Mingjie Chen, Linda M. Abriola, Benjamin K. Amos, Eric J. Suchomel, Kurt D. Pennell, Frank E. Löffler, John A. Christ*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Reductive dechlorination catalyzed by organohalide-respiring bacteria is often considered for remediation of non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL) source zones due to cost savings, ease of implementation, regulatory acceptance, and sustainability. Despite knowledge of the key dechlorinators, an understanding of the processes and factors that control NAPL dissolution rates and detoxification (i.e., ethene formation) is lacking. A recent column study demonstrated a 5-fold cumulative enhancement in tetrachloroethene (PCE) dissolution and ethene formation (Amos et al., 2009). Spatial and temporal monitoring of key geochemical and microbial (i.e., Geobacter lovleyi and Dehalococcoides mccartyi strains) parameters in the column generated a data set used herein as the basis for refinement and testing of a multiphase, compositional transport model. The refined model is capable of simulating the reactive transport of multiple chemical constituents produced and consumed by organohalide-respiring bacteria and accounts for substrate limitations and competitive inhibition. Parameter estimation techniques were used to optimize the values of sensitive microbial kinetic parameters, including maximum utilization rates, biomass yield coefficients, and endogenous decay rates. Comparison and calibration of model simulations with the experimental data demonstrate that the model is able to accurately reproduce measured effluent concentrations, while delineating trends in dechlorinator growth and reductive dechlorination kinetics along the column. Sensitivity analyses performed on the optimized model parameters indicate that the rates of PCE and cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cis-DCE) transformation and Dehalococcoides growth govern bioenhanced dissolution, as long as electron donor (i.e., hydrogen flux) is not limiting. Dissolution enhancements were shown to be independent of cis-DCE accumulation; however, accumulation of cis-DCE, as well as column length and flow rate (i.e., column residence time), strongly influenced the extent of reductive dechlorination. When cis-DCE inhibition was neglected, the model over-predicted ethene production ten-fold, while reductions in residence time (i.e., a two-fold decrease in column length or two-fold increase in flow rate) resulted in a more than 70% decline in ethene production. These results suggest that spatial and temporal variations in microbial community composition and activity must be understood to model, predict, and manage bioenhanced NAPL dissolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-130
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Enhanced dissolution
  • Model verification
  • Modeling
  • NAPL
  • PCE
  • Reductive dechlorination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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