Successful operation of sulphate-reducing bioreactors using complex organic materials depends on providing a balance between more easily degrading material that achieves reasonable kinetics and low hydraulic retention times, and more slowly decomposing material that sustains performance in the long term. In this study, two organic mixtures containing the same ingredients typical of bioreactors used at mine sites (woodchips, hay and cow manure) but with different ratios of wood (recalcitrant) to hay (labile) were tested in six continuous flow bioreactors treating synthetic mine-affected water containing 600 mg/L of sulphate and 15 μg/L of selenium. The reactors were operated for short (5–6 months) and long (435–450 days) periods of time at the same hydraulic retention time of 15 days. There were no differences in the performance of the bioreactors in terms of sulphate-reduction over the short term, but the wood-rich bioreactors experienced variable and sometimes unreliable sulphate-reduction over the long term. Presence of more hay in the organic mixture was able to better sustain reliable performance. Production of dissolved organic compounds due to biodegradation within the bioreactors was detected for the first 175–230 days, after which their depletion coincided with a crash phase observed in the wood-rich bioreactors only.

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