Nitrifying wastewater treatment plants exist in many European countries. These plants can be extended for Total-Nitrogen removal by a post-denitrification stage using an external carbon source. A compact solution for this process is submerged biological filters.

Two pilot plants have been used as post-denitrification reactors, a down-flow filter with expanded slate as carrier material (Biocarbone) and an up-flow filter with polystyrene pellets as carrier material (Biostyr). Nitrified wastewater was treated to a stable effluent quality from both pilot plants to below the Danish effluent standard which is 8 mg Tot-N/l.

The pilot plants have been operated at different loading rates with acetate as external carbon source. Stable removal with effluent nitrate less than 5 mg NO3-N/l was obtained for loading rates up to more than 4 kg NO3-N/m3 d at 10-17°C. The removal capacity of the pilot plants has been shown to be independent of time from last backwash. The removal rate over different sections of the filters does not change within one operation cycle. The backwash removes the excess biomass and particles which cause the head loss, but the removal capacity remains in the filter.

The head loss development in the two systems is quite different. In the Biostyr system, the head loss raises close to linear with time (load), while the Biocarbone shows slow increase in head loss with time until the surface is clogged by incoming particles and biomass growth. When this occurs, the nitrogen bubbles, which are produced in the lower part of the filter, are trapped just below the top layer. The void volume of the filter is occupied by nitrogen gas and the head loss increases very fast to the terminal head loss.

This investigation has shown that both kinds of submerged filters are capable to serve as post-denitrification reactors to remove nitrate to the most stringent effluent standards.

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