A typical steady state bulk pH of about 5 was established in a nitrifying fluidized bed with chalk as the only buffer agent. In spite of the low pH, high rate nitrification was observed with the nitrification kinetic parameters in the chalk reactor similar to those of biological reactors operating at pH>7. Various methods were used to determine the reasons for high rate nitrification at such low pH including (i) determination of bacterial species, (ii) microsensor measurements in the biofilm, and (iii) comparison of nitrification performance at low pH with a non-chalk fluidized bed reactor. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) using existing 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes showed common nitrifying bacteria in the low pH chalk reactor. The prevalent nitrifying bacteria were identified in the Nitrosomonas oligotropha, Nitrosomonas europeae/eutropha, Nitrosospira and Nitrospira related groups, all well known nitrifiers. Microelectrode measurements showed that the pH in the biofilm was low and similar to that of the bulk pH. Finally, reactor performance using a non-chalk biofilm carrier (sintered glass) with the same bacterial inoculum also showed high rate nitrification below pH 5. The results suggest that inhibition of nitrification at low pH is highly overestimated.

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