One of the most economical means of nitrogen removal from leachate is biological treatment by nitrification, followed by heterotrophic denitrification. An alternative biological denitrification process is autotrophic denitrification using Thiobacillus denitrificans. This autotrophic bacteria oxidizes elemental sulphur to sulphate while reducing nitrate to elemental nitrogen gas, thereby eliminating the need for addition of organic carbon compounds. For this study, pilot-scale elemental sulphur packed bed columns with fixed-film denitrification have been selected as the most suitable treatment process. The effect of hydraulic retention time as well as the effect of concentration and loading rate of nitrate on nitrate removal efficiency as a function of sulphur particle size were determined. The results indicate that (i) autotrophic denitrification can effectively remove nitrate from synthetic and actual nitrified leachate at concentrations much higher than hitherto reported; (ii) the minimum hydraulic retention time necessary for complete denitrification depends on sulphur particle size; (iii) the maximum area loading rate, in g NO3-N/m2·d, appears to be the process limiting factor and is practically independent of sulphur particle size; and (iv) the observed stoichiometric relationships compare well with those previously reported.

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