Functional and structural diversity of the microbial communities associated with the use of Fischer–Tropsch GTL Primary Column Bottoms as process cooling water / van Niekerk B.F.
Van Niekerk, Bertina Freda
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Despite emerging water shortages, most water is only used once, and often with low efficiency. However, with appropriate treatment, water can be re–used to reduce the demand on freshwater sources. The Department of Water Affairs, South Africa, promotes industries to reduce discharges into water resources in order to sustain an overall good water quality of all water systems. All of this ultimately leads to industries striving towards zero effluent discharge. Primary Column Bottoms (PCBs) is a wastewater stream derived from the Fischer–Tropsch Gas to Liquid process and consists mainly of organic acids, but no nitrogen or phosphorous, which by implication excludes possible biodegradation. In the operation of cooling towers in industrial processes, cooling water quality has a direct impact on the cooling performance of the system, where nutrient levels may affect fouling, scaling and corrosion observed in the cooling towers. Fouling, scaling and corrosion affect the operating efficiency of cooling water systems and may necessitate the addition of chemical agents to control these phenomena. This has a financial and labour time impact on the operation of these systems. In this study a mini cooling tower test rig was operated with a synthetic PCB effluent as cooling water and various cycles of concentration, pH and linear flow velocities (LFVs). A constant delta temperature of 10 °C was maintained. Cycles of concentration (COC) evaluated included 2, 4 and 6 cycles of concentration and linear flow velocities evaluated was 0.6 m/s, 0.9 m/s and 1.2 m/s. Fouling, scaling and corrosion rates were determined using corrosion coupons and heat exchanger tubes for mild steel and stainless steel. Besides the evaluation of the various operational parameters for fouling, scaling and corrosion, the possibility for chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal by operating the cooling tower as a bioreactor was also evaluated. To this end nutrient correction was applied to the reactor to allow for a CNP ratio of 100:10:1. With regard to fouling, scaling and corrosion, mild steel was more affected by fouling, scaling and corrosion compared to stainless steel where almost no fouling, scaling and corrosion was observed. Overall increased linear flow velocities resulted in higher fouling and scaling rates, whereas lower linear flow velocities resulted in decreased corrosion rates. In terms of cycles of concentration, increased COC resulted in higher fouling, scaling and corrosion rates. Despite the high nutrient removal levels, the accompanying fouling, scaling and corrosion was still below the particular industry’s guidelines. Besides physical–chemical evaluation of the towers under the various operational conditions, culture–dependent and culture–independent methods were also employed. Concerning culture–dependent approaches the study demonstrated that aerobic and anaerobic organisms are present in both the planktonic and sessile phase of the cooling tower reactors. Heterotrophic aerobes were found to be the most abundant under all the operating conditions. Sulphate reducing bacteria were more abundant in the sessile phase of the cooling towers, and the presence of high sulphate levels in the experiments could be indicative of the sulphate reducing bacteria actively participating in the microbial community. Lower than expected corrosion levels, however, suggest that a combination of the organisms in the biofilm rather than sulphate reducing bacteria alone, contributed to the corrosion rates observed. Culture–independent methods, specifically phospholipid fatty acid analysis supported the results from the culture–dependent methods. Furthermore results demonstrated that linear flow velocity had a greater effect on the community structure than cycles of concentration. Finally molecular methods, specifically denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, found that increasing cycles of concentration resulted in increased microbial community diversity, while increasing linear flow velocity resulted in decreased microbial community diversity. Regarding COD removal, nutrient correction of the synthetic PCB effluent achieved 89.35 % COD removal at 2 COC and 1.2 m/s LFV, while 80.85 % COD removal was achieved at 4 COC at 1.2 m/s LFV. From these results it was recommended that the operation of the cooling tower should be at 4 COC and 1.2 m/s, which despite slightly lower % COD removal, were characterised by fouling, scaling and corrosion rates well within guidelines.
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