, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 481–493 | Cite as

Biodegradability of imidazolium and pyridinium ionic liquids by an activated sludge microbial community

  • Kathryn M. Docherty
  • JaNeille K. Dixon
  • Charles F. Kulpa Jr
Original Paper


Ionic liquids (ILs) are novel organic salts that have enormous potential for industrial use as green replacements for harmful volatile organic solvents. Varying the cationic components can alter the chemical and physical properties of ILs, including solubility, to suit a variety of industrial processes. However, to complement designer engineering, it is crucial to proactively characterize the biological impacts of new chemicals, in order to fully define them as environmentally friendly. Before introduction of ILs into the environment, we performed an analysis of the biodegradability of six ILs by activated sludge microorganisms collected from the South Bend, Indiana wastewater treatment plant. We examined biodegradability of 1-butyl, 1-hexyl and 1-octyl derivatives of 3-methyl-imidazolium and 3-methyl-pyridinium bromide compounds using the standard Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development dissolved organic carbon Die-Away Test, changes in total dissolved nitrogen concentrations, and 1H-nuclear magnetic resonance analysis of initial and final chemical structures. Further, we examined microbial community profiles throughout the incubation period using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DNA-PCR-DGGE). Our results suggest that hexyl and octyl substituted pyridinium-based ILs can be fully mineralized, but that imidazolium-based ILs are only partially mineralized. Butyl substituted ILs with either cation, were not biodegradable. Biodegradation rates also increase with longer alkyl chain length, which may be related to enhanced selection of a microbial community. Finally, DGGE analysis suggests that certain microorganisms are enriched by ILs used as a carbon source. Based on these results, we suggest that further IL design and synthesis include pyridinium cations and longer alkyl substitutions for rapid biodegradability.


Ionic liquids Imidazolium Pyridinium Microbial biodegradability Green chemistry 



We thank J.F. Brenneke for providing ILs and D.M. Costello for assistance in manuscript preparation. Funding provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Education Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Fellowship to K.M. Docherty and the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund is gratefully acknowledged. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to K.M. Docherty. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn M. Docherty
    • 1
  • JaNeille K. Dixon
    • 2
  • Charles F. Kulpa Jr
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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