For economic and efficient nitrogen removal from wastewater treatment plants via simultaneous nitrification and denitrification the nitrification process should stop at the level of nitrite such that nitrite rather than nitrate becomes the substrate for denitrification. This study aims to contribute to the understanding of the conditions that are necessary to improve nitrite reduction over nitrite oxidation. Laboratory sequencing batch reactors (SBRs) were operated with synthetic wastewater containing acetate as COD and ammonium as the nitrogen source. Computer controlled operation of the reactors allowed reproducible simultaneous nitrification and denitrification (SND). The oxygen supply was kept precisely at a low level of 0.5 mgL−1 and bacterial PHB was the only electron donor available for denitrification. During SND little nitrite or nitrate accumulated (< 20% total N), indicating that the reducing processes were almost as fast as the production of nitrite and nitrate from nitrification. Nitrite spiking tests were performed to investigate the fate of nitrite under different oxidation (0.1–1.5 mgL−1 of dissolved oxygen) and reduction conditions. High levels of reducing power were provided by allowing the cells to build up to 2.5 mM of PHB. Nitrite added was preferentially oxidised to nitrate rather than reduced even when dissolved oxygen was low and reducing power (PHB) was excessively high. However, the presence of ammonium enabled significant reduction of nitrite under low oxygen conditions. This is consistent with previous observations in SBR where aerobic nitrite and nitrate reduction occurred only as long as ammonium was present. As soon as ammonium was depleted, the rate of denitrification decreased significantly. The significance of the observed strongly stimulating effect of ammonium on nitrite reduction under SND conditions is discussed and potential consequences for SBR operation are suggested.

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