The objective of this study is to investigate to what extent the nitrification capacity of a pilot-plant fixed-film reactor changes during extensive periods of nutrient supply deficiency. The examined pilot-plant was an upflow reactor filled with swelling clay of medium grain size (6 to 8 mm).

The experiments revealed that the maximum nitrification rate remained practically constant during the first weeks after the onset of unregulated ammonium supply. The capacity declined slowly, dropping to approximately 66% of the initial capacity after about ten weeks. Still ammonium peaks of up to 8 mg/l were readily nitrified throughout the entire period of the experiment. The reduction in nitrification capacity during the observation period did not result from decay processes of biomass but from the reactor becoming blocked and thus hampering transfer processes. It could be observed that the detached organisms attached again further up.

This semi-industrial project demonstrated that a plug-flow fixed-film reactor can be used as effective means of tertiary nitrification.

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