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Electrochemical water softening as pretreatment for nitrate electro bioremediation

Electro bioremediation is gaining interest as a sustainable treatment for contaminated groundwater. Nevertheless, the investigation is still at the laboratory level, and before their implementation is necessary to overcome important drawbacks. A prevalent issue is the high groundwater hardness that generates scale deposition on electrodes that irreversibly affects the treatment effectiveness and their lifetime. For this reason, the present study evaluated a novel and sustainable approach combining electrochemical water softening as a preliminary step for electro bioremediation of nitrate-contaminated groundwater. Batch mode tests were performed at mL-scale to determine the optimum reactor configuration (single- or two-chambers) and the suitable applied cathode potential for electrochemical softening. A single-chamber reactor working at a cathode potential of −1.2 V vs. Ag/AgCl was chosen. Continuous groundwater softening under this configuration achieved a hardness removal efficiency of 64 ± 4% at a rate of 305 ± 17 mg CaCO3 m−2cathode h−1. The saturation index at the effluent of the main minerals susceptible to precipitate (aragonite, calcite, and brucite) was reduced up to 90%. Softening activity plummeted after 13 days of operation due to precipitate deposition (mostly calcite) on the cathode surface. Polarity reversal periods were considered to detach the precipitated throughout the continuous operation. Their implementation every 3–4 days increased the softening lifetime by 48%, keeping a stable hardness removal efficiency. The nitrate content of softened groundwater was removed in an electro bioremediation system at a rate of 1269 ± 30 g NO3 m−3NCC d−1 (97% nitrate removal efficiency). The energy consumption of the integrated system (1.4 kWh m−3treated) confirmed the competitiveness of the combined treatment and paves the ground for scaling up the process.

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