A pilot-scale sulfur-based sulfidogenic system for the treatment of Cu-laden electroplating wastewater using real domestic sewage as electron donor

Guibiao Li, Zhensheng Liang, Jianliang Sun, Yanying Qiu, Chuyin Qiu, Xiaomin Liang, Yuhang Zhu, Peng Wang, Yu Li, Feng Jiang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Elemental sulfur (S0) reduction process has been demonstrated as an attractive and cost-efficient approach for metal-laden wastewater treatment in lab-scale studies. However, the system performance and stability have not been evaluated in pilot- or large-scale wastewater treatment. Especially, the sulfide production rate and microbial community structure may significantly vary from lab-scale system to pilot- or large-scale systems using real domestic sewage as carbon source, which brings questions to this novel technology. In this study, therefore, a pilot-scale sulfur-based sulfidogenic treatment system was newly developed and applied for the treatment of Cu-laden electroplating wastewaters using domestic sewage as carbon source. During the 175-d operation, >99.9% of Cu2+ (i.e., 5580 and 1187 mg Cu/L for two types of electroplating wastewaters) was efficiently removed by the biogenic hydrogen sulfide that produced through S0 reduction. Relatively high level of sulfide production (200 mg S/L) can be achieved by utilizing organics in raw domestic sewage, which was easily affected by the organic content and pH value of the domestic sewage. The long-term feeding of domestic sewage significantly re-shaped the microbial community in sulfur-reducing bioreactors. Compared to the reported lab-scale bioreactors, higher microbial community diversity was found in our pilot-scale bioreactors. The presence of hydrolytic, fermentative and sulfur-reducing bacteria was the critical factor for system stability. Accordingly, a two-step ecological interaction among fermentative and sulfur-reducing bacteria was newly proposed for sulfide production: biodegradable particulate organic carbon (BPOC) was firstly degraded to dissolved organic carbon (DOC) by the hydrolytic and fermentative bacteria. Then, sulfur-reducing bacteria utilized the total DOC (both DOC degraded from BPOC and the original DOC present in domestic sewage) as electron donor and reduced the S0 to sulfide. Afterwards, the sulfide precipitated Cu2+ in the post sedimentation tank. Compared with other reported technologies, the sulfur-based treatment system remarkable reduced the total chemical cost by 87.5‒99.6% for the same level of Cu2+ removal. Therefore, this pilot-scale study demonstrated that S0 reduction process can be a sustainable technology to generate sulfide for the co-treatment of Cu-laden electroplating wastewater and domestic sewage, achieving higher Cu2+removal and higher cost-effectiveness than the conventional technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116999
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • Cu-laden electroplating wastewater
  • Microbial community structure
  • Pilot-scale system
  • Sulfur reduction
  • Sulfur-reducing bacteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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