Comparison of the Biodegradation of n-alkanes and Readily Biodegradable Substrates Using Open Mixed Culture under Aerobic, Anoxic and Anaerobic Conditions

Chukwuemeka Uzukwu, Davide Dionisi

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This study has investigated the biodegradation of n-alkanes using open mixed cultures in batch tests. Biodegradation of n-C12, C14, C16, C18, C20 was investigated using a respirometric method and compared with the biodegradation of the readily biodegradable substrates glucose, acetic acid and ethanol. Experiments were performed in small-scale bioreactors under various conditions, i.e. aerobic, anoxic with nitrate and completely anaerobic conditions, using two different sources of open mixed microbial cultures. Under aerobic conditions all the readily biodegradable substrates and hydrocarbons were removed, although the acclimation time was longer for the hydrocarbons (3-5 days) than for the readily biodegradable substrates (1-2 days). No significant effect on the hydrocarbon concentration on biodegradation was observed in the concentration range 0.5-5 g/l. Under anoxic conditions, both the readily biodegradable substrates and the hydrocarbons were removed using nitrate as electron acceptor. However, the acclimation time for the hydrocarbons under anoxic conditions (20-25 days) was much longer than under aerobic conditions. Under both aerobic and anoxic conditions, once acclimation with the hydrocarbons was completed, the microorganisms were immediately able to remove a second spike of the substrate without acclimation. Under anaerobic conditions, no activity was observed with the hydrocarbons over a period of 150 days, while the mixed culture was able to remove glucose and convert it to volatile fatty acids. Under aerobic conditions, the dissolved oxygen consumption data was mathematically modelled using Monod kinetics to obtain biokinetic parameters. Good fittings between the model and the experimental data was obtained and the biodegradation of hydrocarbons was characterised by higher values of the parameter KS compared to the readily biodegradable substrates. The results of this study showed that the open mixed microbial cultures contained diverse microorganisms capable of utilizing both liquid and solid n-alkanes under aerobic and anoxic conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-76
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Bioremediation and Biodegradation
Issue number2
Early online date11 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • biodegradation
  • n-alkanes
  • mixed culture
  • aerobic
  • anoxic
  • anaerobic
  • respirometry


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