Low cost mycelial stabilization of coal combustion products to reduce As, and Se contamination of groundwater




This proposal seeks to stabilize coal combustion products through encapsulation in a fungal matrix and thereby prevent groundwater contamination by arsenic and selenium. While fungi have been effective in treating various contaminants, its application to mitigate pollution from coal combustion products is limited. Our preliminary results show that mycelial encapsulation is very effective in reducing As and Se leaching from fly ash. This 1-year proposal seeks to further (a) define the culture conditions for effective mycelial encapsulation of coal combustion products and (b) assess the arsenic and selenium leachability from mycelia encapsulated coal combustion products under realistic groundwater conditions.


We hypothesize that fungal mycelium can be utilized to prevent groundwater
contamination by arsenic and selenium released from coal combustion products.


Task 1: Identify and quantify the key parameters that affect fungal mycelium growth in CCP matrix and their effects in reducing metal leaching potential from CCP.

Task 2: Evaluate the effectiveness of utilizing mycelium-encapsulated CCP matrix to prevent metal contamination in simulated groundwater flow-through or circulation systems.

Expected Results:

This project will be conducted in the biogeochemical lab at Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. It will include significant participation of two undergraduate students from Natural Resources and Environmental Science Department: Madalyn Liberman and Sabine Miller. They will be trained in mycelium culture, column experiments, sample collection/analysis, and data reporting. By doing so, the students will obtain laboratory skills and experience in designing and conducting environmental studies. The results, if successful, will be adapted and modified for field level application through engagement of colleagues from PRI with expertise in ground water modeling and geotechnical engineering. It is expected that the results, if successful, will result in an IP disclosure to the Office of Technology Management, UIUC and also form the basis of a proposal to USDOE in 2020.

Project Impact:

This project investigated the growth condition for the production of water-impermeable biological barriers using fungal mycelium, especially in the presence of fly ash that has inhibitory effects on the fungal growth. The results show the investigated fungi still can produce massive mycelium when the ratio of fly ash to the fungal growth medium is 15:1. Moreover, our results indicate the application of fungal mycelial film as the water-impermeable barrier can effectively prevent water infiltration into the fly ash impoundment. As a result, fungal mycelial application reduced the As leaching potential of fly ash under the subsurface flow conditions. With the fungal mycelial film, the As concentration in the fly ash leachate dropped by 84% compared to the control group. This study offers an innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective route to design the new CCR covers and manage the unlined/ inadequately-lined legacy sites.

The report of “Low Cost Mycelial Stabilization of Coal Combustion Products to Reduce As, and Se Contamination of Groundwater”. Linduo Zhao. 2022. Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Annual Review.

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