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Currently conventional Subtitle D landfills are the primary means of disposing of our waste in the United States. While this method of waste disposal aims at protecting the environment, it does so through the use of liners and caps that effectively freeze the breakdown of waste. Because this method can keep landfills active, and thus a potential groundwater threat for over a hundred years, I take an in depth look at the ability of bioreactor landfills to quickly stabilize waste. In the thesis I detail the current state of bioreactor landfill technologies, assessing the pros and cons of anaerobic and aerobic bioreactor technologies. Finally, with an industrial perspective, I conclude that moving on to bioreactor landfills as an alternative isn't as simple as it may first appear, and that it is a contextually specific solution that must be further refined before replacing current landfills.
Environmentally harmful byproducts from solid waste’s decomposition, including methane (CH4) emissions, are managed through standardized landfill engineering and gas-capture mechanisms. Yet only a limited number of studies have analyzed the development and composition of Bacteria and Archaea involved in CH4 production from landfills. The objectives of this research were to compare microbiomes and bioactivity from CH4-producing communities in contrasting spatial areas of arid landfills and to tests a new technology to biostimulate CH4 production (methanogenesis) from solid waste under dynamic environmental conditions controlled in the laboratory. My hypothesis was that the diversity and abundance of methanogenic Archaea in municipal solid waste (MSW), or its leachate, play an important role on CH4 production partially attributed to the group’s wide hydrogen (H2) consumption capabilities. I tested this hypothesis by conducting complementary field observations and laboratory experiments. I describe niches of methanogenic Archaea in MSW leachate across defined areas within a single landfill, while demonstrating functional H2-dependent activity. To alleviate limited H2 bioavailability encountered in-situ, I present biostimulant feasibility and proof-of-concepts studies through the amendment of zero valent metals (ZVMs). My results demonstrate that older-aged MSW was minimally biostimulated for greater CH4 production relative to a control when exposed to iron (Fe0) or manganese (Mn0), due to highly discernable traits of soluble carbon, nitrogen, and unidentified fluorophores found in water extracts between young and old aged, starting MSW. Acetate and inhibitory H2 partial pressures accumulated in microcosms containing old-aged MSW. In a final experiment, repeated amendments of ZVMs to MSW in a 600 day mesocosm experiment mediated significantly higher CH4 concentrations and yields during the first of three ZVM injections. Fe0 and Mn0 experimental treatments at mesocosm-scale also highlighted accelerated development of seemingly important, but elusive Archaea including Methanobacteriaceae, a methane-producing family that is found in diverse environments. Also, prokaryotic classes including Candidatus Bathyarchaeota, an uncultured group commonly found in carbon-rich ecosystems, and Clostridia; All three taxa I identified as highly predictive in the time-dependent progression of MSW decomposition. Altogether, my experiments demonstrate the importance of H2 bioavailability on CH4 production and the consistent development of Methanobacteriaceae in productive MSW microbiomes.