Surface mining, in the form of contour mining and mountain-top removal, is a common means for retrieving coal in the Appalachian Coal Belt region of Kentucky. Overburden or excess spoil generated by these two methods is placed in valley fills. Traditionally Constructed fills have been shown to adversely impact headwater ecosystems via stream burial and through alterations to the hydrology, sediment supply, water quality and biological composition of downstream reaches. Mine drainages emanating from the toe of valley fills often contain elevated levels of total dissolved solids and heavy metals. Drainage chemistry from Guy Cove, a valley fill located in eastern Kentucky, exhibited a mean pH of 6.5 and Fe, Mn and SO4 concentrations of 1.5, 14, and 1264 mg L-1, respectively. The objective of this research was to develop an anaerobic bioreactor for the purpose of reducing Mn and SO4 concentrations in the mine drainage. Development began with batch experiments that tested five different organic carbon sources and five different inorganic substrates. A synthetic mine drainage with a pH of 6.2 and Mn and SO4 concentrations of 90 and 1,500 mg/L, respectively, was used in the experiment. Manganese and SO4 removal varied widely between treatment matrices, with removal rates < 10 to 100% for Mn and < 10 to > 80% for SO4. The substrate sources which provided the most treatment were hardwood mulch and biosolids combined with creek sediment. Subsequent experiments were performed using the synthetic mine drainage in small bioreactors (55 liter plastic tanks) filled with creek sediment with either hardwood mulch or biosolids, each replicated three times. Over a 65 day treatment period > 90% of the Mn and 70% of the SO4 was removed. There were no statistical differences between the two organic substrates. Using this information, in-situ bioreactors consisting of two 5,500 liter plastic septic tanks filled with creek sediment, hardwood mulch and manure compost were installed at Guy Cove. Mine drainage was collected in a sump and conveyed through the inline bioreactors by gravity. Gate valves were used to control flow through the bioreactors. After a 10-month monitoring period, the in-situ bioreactors removed 12, 11, and 64% of Mn, SO4 and Fe from the drainage, respectively. Results from the field differed greatly from those observed under controlled laboratory conditions. Efforts to improve the efficiency of the in-situ bioreactors are underway.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in Bioreactors: Design, Properties and Applications. Paolo G. Antolli, & Zhiming Liu, (Eds.). p. 121-140.

© 2012 Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

The copyright holder has granted the permission for posting the book chapter here.