Intimate coupling of photocatalysis and biodegradation in a photocatalytic circulating-bed biofilm reactor

Michael D. Marsolek, Cesar Torres, Martina Hausner, Bruce Rittmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


Coupling advanced oxidative pretreatment with subsequent biodegradation demonstrates potential for treating wastewaters containing biorecalcitrant and inhibitory organic constituents. However, advanced oxidation is indiscriminate, producing a range of products that can be too oxidized, unavailable for biodegradation, or toxic themselves. This problem could be overcome if advanced oxidation and biodegradation occurred together, an orientation called intimate coupling; then, biodegradable organics are removed as they are formed, focusing the chemical oxidant on the non-biodegradable fraction. Intimate coupling has seemed impossible because the conditions of advanced oxidation, for example, hydroxyl radicals and sometimes UV-light, are severely toxic to microorganisms. Here, we demonstrate that a novel photocatalytic circulating-bed biofilm reactor (PCBBR), which utilizes macro-porous carriers to protect biofilm from toxic reactants and UV light, achieves intimate coupling. We demonstrate the viability of the PCBBR system first with UV only and acetate, where the carriers grew biofilm and sustained acetate biodegradation despite continuous UV irradiation. Images obtained by scanning electron microscopy and confocal laser scanning microscopy show bacteria living behind the exposed surface of the cubes. Second, we used slurry-form Degussa P25 TiO2 to initiate photocatalysis of inhibitory 2,4,5-trichlorophenol (TCP) and acetate. With no bacterial carriers, photocatalysis and physical processes removed TCP and COD to 32% and 26% of their influent levels, but addition of biofilm carriers decreased residuals to 2% and 4%, respectively. Biodegradation alone could not remove TCP. Photomicrographs clearly show that biomass originally on the exterior of the carriers was oxidized (charred), but biofilm a short distance within the carriers was protected. Finally, we coated TiO2 directly onto the carrier surface, producing a hybrid photocatalytic-biological carrier. These carriers likewise demonstrated the concept of photocatalytic degradation of TCP coupled with biodegradation of acetate, but continued TCP degradation required augmentation with slurry-form TiO2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-92
Number of pages10
JournalBiotechnology and bioengineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2008


  • Advanced oxidation
  • Biodegradation
  • Biofilm
  • Photobiocatalysis
  • Photocatalysis
  • Trichlorophenol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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