Heavy metal removal from sediments by biosurfactants

C N Mulligan, R N Yong, B F Gibbs
Journal of Hazardous Materials 2001 July 30, 85 (1): 111-25
Batch washing experiments were used to evaluate the feasibility of using biosurfactants for the removal of heavy metals from sediments. Surfactin from Bacillus subtilis, rhamnolipids from Pseudomonas aeruginosa and sophorolipid from Torulopsis bombicola were evaluated using a metal-contaminated sediment (110mg/kg copper and 3300mg/kg zinc). A single washing with 0.5% rhamnolipid removed 65% of the copper and 18% of the zinc, whereas 4% sophorolipid removed 25% of the copper and 60% of the zinc. Surfactin was less effective, removing 15% of the copper and 6% of the zinc. The technique of ultrafiltration and zeta potential measurements were used to determine the mechanism of metal removal by the surfactants. It was then postulated that metal removal by the biosurfactants occurs through sorption of the surfactant on to the soil surface and complexation with the metal, detachment of the metal from the soil into the soil solution and hence association with surfactant micelles. Sequential extraction procedures were used on the sediment to determine the speciation of the heavy metals before and after surfactant washing. The carbonate and oxide fractions accounted for over 90% of the zinc present in the sediments. The organic fraction constituted over 70% of the copper. Sequential extraction of the sediments after washing with the various surfactants indicated that the biosurfactants, rhamnolipid and surfactin could remove the organically-bound copper and that the sophorolipid could remove the carbonate and oxide-bound zinc. Therefore, heavy metal removal from sediments is feasible and further research will be conducted.

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