Application of Biotechnology for Industrial Waste Treatment

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Joo-Hwa Tay, Stephen Tiong-Lee Tay, and Volodymyr Ivanov

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Yung-Tse Hung

Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.



Environmental biotechnology concerns the science and practical knowledge relating to the use of microorganisms and their products. Biotechnology combines fundamental knowledge in microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology, and engineering knowledge of the specific processes and equipment. The main applications of biotechnology in industrial hazardous waste treatment are: prevention of environmental pollution through waste treatment, remediation of polluted environments, and biomonitoring of environment and treatment processes. The common biotechnological process in the treatment of hazardous waste is the biotransformation or biodegradation of hazardous substances by microbial communities.

Bioagents for hazardous waste treatment are biotechnological agents that can be applied to hazardous waste treatment including bacteria, fungi, algae, and protozoa. Bacteria are microorganisms with prokaryotic cells and typically range from 1 to 5 pm in size. Bacteria are most active in the biodegradation of organic matter and are used in the wastewater treatment and solid waste or soil bioremediation. Fungi are eukaryotic microorganisms that assimilate organic substances and typically range from 5 to 20 pm in size. Fungi are important degraders of biopolymers and are used in solid waste treatment, especially in composting, or in soil bioremediation for the biodegradation of hazardous organic substances. Fungal biomass is also used as an adsorbent of heavy metals or radionuclides. Algae are saprophytic eukaryotic microorganisms that assimilate light energy. Algal cells typically range from 5 to 20 pm in size. Algae are used in environmental biotechnology for the removal of organic matter in waste lagoons. Protozoa are unicellular animals that absorb organic food and digest it intracellularly. Typical cell size is from 10 to 50 pm. Protozoa play an important role in the treatment of industrial hazardous solid, liquid, and gas wastes by grazing on bacterial cells, thus maintaining adequate bacterial biomass levels in the treatment systems and helping to reduce cell concentrations in the waste effluents.

Microbial aggregates used in hazardous waste treatment. Microorganisms are key biotechnology agents because of their diverse biodegradation and biotransformation abilities and their small size. They have high ratios of biomass surface to biomass volume, which ensure high rates of metabolism. Microorganisms used in biotechnology typically range from 1 to 100 pm in size. However, in addition to individual cells, cell aggregates in the form of flocs, biofilms, granules, and mats with dimensions that typically range from 0.1 to 100 mm may also be used in biotechnology. These aggregates may be suspended in liquid or attached to solid surfaces. Microbial aggregates that can accumulate in the water-gas interface are also useful in biotechnology applications in hazardous waste treatment.

Microbial communities for hazardous waste treatment. It is extremely unusual for biological treatment to rely solely on a single microbial strain. More commonly, communities of naturally selected strains or artificially combined strains of microorganisms are employed. Positive or negative interactions may exist among the species within each community. Positive interactions, such as commensalism, mutualism, and symbiosis, are more common in microbial aggregates. Negative interactions, such as amensalism, antibiosis, parasitism, and predation, are more common in natural or engineering systems with low densities of microbial biomass, for example, in aquatic or soil ecosystems.

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