The inoculation of rice straw biochar with PAH-degrading Mycobacterium gilvum (1.27 × 1011 ± 1.24 × 1010 cell g−1), and the subsequent amendment of this composite material to PAHs contaminated (677 mg kg−1) coke plant soil, was conducted in order to investigate if would enhance PAHs biodegradation in soils. The microbe-biochar composite showed superior degradation capacity for phenanthrene, fluoranthene and pyrene. Phenanthrene loss in the microbe-biochar composite, free cell alone and biochar alone treatments was, respectively, 62.6 ± 3.2%, 47.3 ± 4.1% and non-significant (P > 0.05); whereas for fluoranthene loss it was 52.1 ± 2.3%; non-significant (P > 0.05) and non-significant (P > 0.05); and for pyrene loss it was 62.1 ± 0.9%; 19.7 ± 6.5% and 13.5 ± 2.8%. It was hypothesized that the improved remediation was underpinned by i) biochar enhanced mass transfer of PAHs from the soil to the carbonaceous biochar “sink”, and ii) the subsequent degradation of the PAHs by the immobilized M. gilvum. To test this mechanism, a surfactant (Brij 30; 20 mg g−1 soil), was added to impede PAHs mass transfer to biochar and sorption. The surfactant increased solution phase PAH concentrations and significantly (P < 0.05) reduced PAH degradation in the biochar immobilized M. gilvum treatments; indicating the enhanced degradation occurred between the immobilized M. gilvum and biochar sorbed PAHs.
- Microbe immobilization