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Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering

Front. Environ. Sci. Eng.    2020, Vol. 14 Issue (4) : 57
Sulfur cycle as an electron mediator between carbon and nitrate in a constructed wetland microcosm
Wenrui Guo1,2, Yue Wen1,2(), Yi Chen3, Qi Zhou1
1. State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resource Reuse, College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092, China
2. Shanghai Institute of Pollution Control and Ecological Security, Shanghai 200092, China
3. Key Laboratory of the Three Gorges Region’s Eco-Environment, Ministry of Education, College of Environment and Ecology, Chongqing University, Chongqing 400044, China
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• Fe(III) accepted the most electrons from organics, followed by NO3, SO42‒, and O2.

• The electrons accepted by SO42‒ could be stored in the solid AVS, FeS2-S, and S0.

• The autotrophic denitrification driven by solid S had two-phase characteristics.

• A conceptual model involving electron acceptance, storage, and donation was built.

• S cycle transferred electrons between organics and NO3 with an efficiency of 15%.

A constructed wetland microcosm was employed to investigate the sulfur cycle-mediated electron transfer between carbon and nitrate. Sulfate accepted electrons from organics at the average rate of 0.84 mol/(m3·d) through sulfate reduction, which accounted for 20.0% of the electron input rate. The remainder of the electrons derived from organics were accepted by dissolved oxygen (2.6%), nitrate (26.8%), and iron(III) (39.9%). The sulfide produced from sulfate reduction was transformed into acid-volatile sulfide, pyrite, and elemental sulfur, which were deposited in the substratum, storing electrons in the microcosm at the average rate of 0.52 mol/(m3·d). In the presence of nitrate, the acid-volatile and elemental sulfur were oxidized to sulfate, donating electrons at the average rate of 0.14 mol/(m3·d) and driving autotrophic denitrification at the average rate of 0.30 g N/(m3·d). The overall electron transfer efficiency of the sulfur cycle for autotrophic denitrification was 15.3%. A mass balance assessment indicated that approximately 50% of the input sulfur was discharged from the microcosm, and the remainder was removed through deposition (49%) and plant uptake (1%). Dominant sulfate-reducing (i.e., Desulfovirga, Desulforhopalus, Desulfatitalea, and Desulfatirhabdium) and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria (i.e., Thiohalobacter, Thiobacillus, Sulfuritalea, and Sulfurisoma), which jointly fulfilled a sustainable sulfur cycle, were identified. These results improved understanding of electron transfers among carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycles in constructed wetlands, and are of engineering significance.

Keywords Constructed wetland      Sulfur cycle      Electron transfer      Denitrification     
Corresponding Author(s): Yue Wen   
Issue Date: 01 April 2020
 Cite this article:   
Wenrui Guo,Yue Wen,Yi Chen, et al. Sulfur cycle as an electron mediator between carbon and nitrate in a constructed wetland microcosm[J]. Front. Environ. Sci. Eng., 2020, 14(4): 57.
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Wenrui Guo
Yue Wen
Yi Chen
Qi Zhou
Parameters Concentrationa) (mg/L)
Wastewater treatment plant secondary effluent CW microcosm influent for the pre-incubation and batch experiment
COD 19.8±3.4 422±42
NO3?-N 10.1±1.0 43.6±3.0
NO2?-N 1.3±0.2 0.9±0.3
NH4+-N 1.1±0.2 1.7±0.3
TN 14.7±2.8 48.5±2.5
SO42?-S 22.1±3.0 41.5±1.5
TS 23.2±1.9 42.7±3.1
Tab.1  Characteristics of the wastewater treatment plant secondary effluent and the CW microcosm influent
Fig.1  Nitrate and sulfate concentrations (a), and sulfide, elemental sulfur, and thiosulfate concentrations (b) in the pore water of the microcosm. Error bars represent±standard deviation (n = 12).
Fig.2  Concentration of dissolved oxygen and ferrous ion in the CW microcosm. Error bars represent±standard deviation (n = 12).
Fig.3  Kinetics of apparent sulfate reduction in the microcosm. The equation of apparent sulfate reduction rate was obtained based on the calculation method in Table S4.
Fig.4  X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy spectra of S2p of the solid-phase (a) and accumulated deposited sulfur species (b) in the substratum. Error bars represent ±standard deviation (n = 3).
Fig.5  Sulfate concentration during stage I (0–8 h). Error bars represent ±standard deviation (n = 12).
Process Sulfur species Rate (g S/(m3·d))
Sulfur input Sulfate 3.32
Other sulfur 0.10
Sulfur output Sulfate 0.55
Sulfide 0.87
Elemental sulfur 0.03
Thiosulfate 0.13
Other sulfur 0.10
Sulfur deposition AVS 0.74
Pyrite 0.89
Elemental sulfur 0.04
Plant uptake Organic sulfur 0.03
Volatilization Hydrogen sulfide nd.
Tab.2  Sulfur input, output, deposition, plant uptake, and volatilization rates, as well as the sulfur recovery factor for the mass balance calculation for the CW microcosm
Fig.6  Rarefaction curve base on pyrosequencing of bacterial communities (a) and distribution of phylogenetic taxa at phylum level (b), class level (c), and genus level (only the top 50 genera in abundance are shown) (d). The genera in bold indicate sulfate-reducing (SRB) and/or sulfur-oxidizing bacteria (SOB).
Fig.7  A conceptual model for the sulfur cycle-mediated electron transfer in the constructed wetland microcosm. Solid and dashed arrows indicate the substance transformation and electron transfer processes, respectively. Processes “a,” “b,” “c,” and “d” indicate the electron acceptance of sulfate, oxygen, nitrate, and iron(III), respectively. Processes “e,” “f,” and “g” indicate electron output in effluent, electron storage, and electron donation to nitrate, respectively.
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