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Biological Treatment of Naphthenic Acids and Other Organic Compounds in Oil Sands Process-Affected Waters Open Access


Other title
oil sands
ozone treatment
process-affected water
naphthenic acids
biological treatment
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Brown, Lisa D
Supervisor and department
Ulrich, Ania C (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
Gieg, Lisa (Department of Biological Sciences, University of Calgary)
Whitby, Corinne (School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex)
Yu, Tong (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Foght, Julia (Department of Biological Sciences)
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
GeoEnvironmental Engineering
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The Alberta oil sands contain one of the world’s largest reserves of oil - over 169 billion barrels of bitumen are economically recoverable with current extraction technologies. Surface mining, whereby the ore is extricated from the earth and bitumen is obtained via a hot water extraction process, accounts for approximately half of current production of synthetic crude oil and generates about nine cubic meters of raw tailings per cubic meter of oil. Oil sands facilities are required to operate under a policy of zero water discharge, resulting in impoundments containing more than one billion cubic meters of tailings, a mixture of sand, fines and process-affected water. Effective treatment processes are required in the immanent future, especially for a class of compounds called naphthenic acids, identified as the primary source of acute toxicity of process-affected water. Aerobic biodegradation of oil sands naphthenic acids by indigenous microbial populations present in tailings ponds has been shown to be slow and incomplete, relative to biodegradation of petroleum-refined naphthenic acids available commercially. This research focused on treating oil sands process-affected waters by coupling oxidation, as a means of reducing the recalcitrance of naphthenic acids and other organic compounds, with biodegradation to remove organic matter, including the resulting daughter products of oxidation. In addition, microbial cultures, obtained from an oil sands tailings pond and enriched on organic matter that included naphthenic acids, were assessed for their capability to biodegrade naphthenic acid compounds. Ozone pretreatment significantly improved the biodegradability of dissolved organic carbon in aged process-affected water samples, from 5 mg/L removal in untreated samples to 11-13 mg/L removal in ozone-treated samples. Ozone exposed indigenous microbial communities were able to degrade an amount of ozone treated organic matter equivalent to those communities not previously exposed, although community structure analysis with microbiological molecular methods indicated these communities were only 65% similar. Ozone pretreatment of model naphthenic acid compounds enabled a bacterial isolate from an oil sands tailings pond, Acidovorax sp., to remove 40% of the tricyclic naphthenic acid, adamantane-1-carboxylic acid, hypothesized to be cometabolized during biodegradation of more labile ozone by-products. A fungal isolate from an oil sands tailings pond, Trichoderma harzianum, was capable of degrading two tricyclic model naphthenic acid compounds. Ozonation coupled with biodegradation is a promising treatment technology for oil sands process-affected waters, as the need for treatment of organic matter more aggressive than natural attenuation has been established. Ozone pretreatment prior to placement of process-affected waters in reclamation environments, such as end-pit lakes or constructed wetlands, may result in adequate removal of organic matter and the associated toxicity by subsequent biodegradation, without the need for building costly ex-situ wastewater treatment facilities.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Lisa D. Brown, Leonidas Pérez-Estrada, Nan Wang, Mohamed Gamal El-Din, Jonathan W. Martin, Phillip M. Fedorak, and Ania C. Ulrich. 2013. Indigenous Microbes Survive In-Situ Ozonation Improving Biodegradation of Dissolved Organic Matter in Aged Oil Sands Process-Affected Waters. Chemosphere. 93: 2748-2755.

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