Using the biogeochemical model CCBATCH, which we expanded to include transport processes, we study a novel approach for the treatment of aquifers contaminated with toxic concentrations of metals, the diffusion-active permeable reactive barrier (DAPRB), which is based on generation of sulfide by Sulfate Reducing Bacteria (SRB) as the groundwater moves through a layered treatment zone. In the DAPRB, layers of low conductivity (low-K) containing reactive materials are intercalated between layers of high conductivity (high-K) that transport the groundwater across the barrier. Because diffusion dominates transport in the reactive layers, microbial communities can take advantage there of the chemical-gradient mechanism for protection from toxicants. The ideal sulfidic DAPRB design includes particulate organic matter (POM) and solid sulfate mineral inside the reactive (low-K) layer. This leads to sulfate reduction and the formation of sulfide ligands that complex with toxic metals, such as Zn2+ in the high-K layer. We perform a theoretical biogeochemical analysis of the ideal configuration of a DAPRB for treatment of Zn-contaminated groundwater. Our analysis using the expanded CCBATCH confirms the gradient-resistance mechanism for bio-protection, with the ZnS bio-sink forming at the intersection of the Zn and sulfide plumes inside the high-K layers of the DAPRB. The detailed DAPRB analysis also shows that total alkalinity and pH distributions are representative footprints of the two key biogeochemical processes taking place, sulfidogenesis and Zn immobilization as sulfide mineral. This is so because these two reactions consume or produce acidic hydrogen and alkalinity. Additionally, because Zn immobilization is due to ZnS mineral precipitation, the ZnS mineral distribution is a good indicator for the bio-sink. Bio-sinks are located for the most part within the high-K layers, and their exact position depends on the relative magnitude of metal and sulfide fluxes. Finally, we conduct a practicality analysis that supports the feasibility of implementing the proposed design. For instance, the fraction of reactive material that is consumed during sulfidogenesis is relatively small (including POM and sulfate source), a total volume fraction of less than 6% over a time span of 50 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-162
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010


  • Bio-protection
  • Metal detoxification
  • Permeable reactive barrier
  • Sulfide
  • Zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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