Abstract A fixed-bed study was carried out by using cells of Pseudomonas aeruginosa immobilized in polyacrylamide gel as a biosorbent for the removal of lanthanide (La, Eu, Yb) ions from aqueous solutions. The effects of superficial liquid velocity based on empty column, particle size, influent concentration and bed depth on the lanthanum breakthrough curves were investigated. Immobilized biomass effectively removed lanthanum from a 6 mM solution with a maximum adsorption capacity of 342 μmol g −1 (±10%) corresponding closely to that observed in earlier batch studies with free bacterial cells. The Bohart and Adams sorption model was employed to determine characteristic parameters useful for process design. Results indicated that the immobilized cells of P. aeruginosa enable removal of lanthanum, europium and ytterbium ions from aqueous effluents with significant and similar maximum adsorption capacities. Experiments with a mixed cation solution showed that the sequence of preferential biosorption was Eu 3+⩾Yb 3+>La 3+. Around 96±4% of the bound lanthanum was desorbed from the column and concentrated by eluting with a 0.1 M EDTA solution. The feasibility of regenerating and reusing the biomass through three adsorption/desorption cycles was suggested. Neural networks were used to model breakthrough curves performed in the dynamic process. The ability of this statistical tool to predict the breakthrough times was discussed.