Bioleaching is a promising technology for removal of metals from sludge and improvement of its dewaterability. Most of the previous studies of bioleaching were focused on removal of metals; bioleaching in cold environments has not been studied extensively. In this study, Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans and Acidithiobacillus thiooxidans were acclimated at 15 °C and co-inoculated to explore the optimal conditions for improvement of sludge dewaterability and removal of metals by the sequencing batch reactors. The data show after 6 days of bioleaching at 15 °C, 89.6% of Zn, 72.8% of Cu and 39.4% of Pb were removed and the specific resistance to filtration (SRF) was reduced to ~12%. In addition, the best conditions for bioleaching are an initial pH of 6, a 15% (v/v) inoculum concentration, and A. thiooxidans and A. ferrooxidans mixed in a ratio of 4:1. We found that bioleaching of heavy metals is closely related to final pH, while the sludge SRF is dominated by other factors. Bioleaching can be completed in 6 days, and the sludge dewaterability and removal of metals at 15 °C meet the requirements of most sewage treatment plants.

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