Incomplete nitrification at an activated sludge plant for biological pre-treatment of rendering plant effluents led to a detailed investigation on the origin and solution of this problem. Preliminary studies revealed that an inhibition of ammonia oxidising microorganisms (AOM) by process waters of the rendering plant was responsible for the situation. We were able to show a correlation between the existence of specific AOM and nitrification capacity expressed as oxygen uptake rate for maximal nitrification (OURNmax). Only Nitrosospira sp. was found in the activated sludge of the rendering plant and another industrial wastewater treatment plant with problems in nitrification, while reference plants without nitrification problems showed Nitrosomonas spp. as the predominant ammonia oxidising bacteria. By accompanying engineering investigations and experiments (cross-feeding experiments, operation of a two-stage laboratory plant) with molecular biological methods (DGGE - Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis) we were able to elaborate an applicable solution for the rendering plant. Laboratory experiments with a two-stage process layout finally provided complete nitrification overcoming the inhibiting nature of process waters from the rendering plant. DGGE analysis of the second stage activated sludge from the laboratory plant showed a shift in population structure from Nitrosospira sp. towards Nitrosomonas spp. simultaneous to the increase of nitrification capacity. Nitrification capacities comparable to full-scale municipal wastewater treatment plants could be maintained for more than two months. As the design of wastewater treatment plants for nitrification is linked to the growth characteristics of Nitrosomonas spp., established criteria can be applied for the redesign of the full-scale plant.

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