Treatment of high-strength sulfate wastewater using an autotrophic biocathode in view of elemental sulfur recovery

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© 2016 Elsevier Ltd Treatment of high-strength sulfate wastewaters is becoming a research issue not only for its optimal management but also for the possibility of recovering elemental sulfur. Moreover, sulfate-rich wastewater production is expected to grow due to the increased SO 2 emission contained in flue gases which are treated by chemical absorption in water. Bioelectrochemical systems (BESs) are a promising alternative for sulfate reduction with a lack of electron donor, since hydrogen can be generated in situ from electricity. However, complete sulfate reduction leads to hydrogen sulfide as final sulfur compound. This work is the first to demonstrate that, in addition to an efficient sulfate-rich wastewater treatment, elemental sulfur could be recovered in a biocathode of a BES under oxygen limiting conditions. The key of the process is the biological oxidation of sulfide to elemental sulfur simultaneously to the sulfate reduction in the cathode using the oxygen produced in the anode that diffuses through the membrane. High sulfate reduction rates (up to 388 mg S-SO 42−  L −1  d −1 ) were observed linked to a low production of sulfide. Accumulation of elemental sulfur over graphite fibers of the biocathode was demonstrated by energy dispersive spectrometry, discarding the presence of metal sulfides. Microbial community analysis of the cathode biofilm demonstrated the presence of sulfate-reducing bacteria (mainly Desulfovibrio sp.) and sulfide-oxidizing bacteria (mainly Sulfuricurvum sp.). Hence, this biocathode allows simultaneous biological sulfate reduction and biological sulfide oxidation to elemental sulfur, opening up a novel process for recovering sulfur from sulfate-rich wastewaters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-405
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2016


  • Bioelectrochemical systems (BESs)
  • Elemental sulfur
  • Recovery
  • Sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB)
  • Sulfide-oxidizing bacteria (SOB).


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