Conventional nitrification-denitrification treatment is a common way to treat nitrogen in wastewater, but this process is costly for low COD/N wastewaters due to the addition of air and external carbon-source. However, ammonia may alternatively be converted to dinitrogen gas by autotrophic bacteria utilizing aerobically autotrophically produced nitrite as an electron acceptor under anoxic conditions. Lab-scale sequencing batch biofilm reactors (SBBRs) inoculated with normal nitrifying sludge were employed to study the potential of an oxygen-limited autotrophic nitrification-denitrification process initiated with typical nitrifying sludge for treating a synthetic ammonia wastewater devoid of organic carbon in one step. The ring-laced fibrous carrier (length 0.32 m, surface area 3.4 m2/m) was fixed vertically in a 3 L reactor. Two different air supply modes were applied:continuous aeration to control dissolved oxygen at 1.5 mg/L and intermittent aeration. High nitrogen removals of more than 50% were obtained in both SBBRs. At an ammonia loading of 0.882 gm N/m2-day [hydraulic retention time (HRT) of 24 hr], the SBBR continuously aerated to 1.5 mg DO/L had slightly higher nitrogen removal (64%) than the intermittently alternated SBBR (55%). The main form of residual nitrogen in the effluent was ammonia, at concentrations of 25 mg/L and 37 mg N/L in continuous and intermittent aeration SBBRs, respectively. Ammonia was completely consumed when ammonia loading was reduced to 0.441 gm N/m2-day [HRT extended to 48 hr]. The competitive use of nitrite by aerobic nitrite oxidizing bacteria (ANOB) with anaerobic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (anammox bacteria) during the expanded aeration period under low remaining ammonia concentration resulted in higher nitrate production and lower nitrogen loss in the continuous aeration SBBR than in the intermittent aeration SBBR. The nitrogen removal efficiencies in SBBRs with continuous and alternating aerated were 80% and 86% respectively. Specific microorganisms in the biofilm were characterized using fluorescence in situ hybridization. Aerobic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AAOB) occurred side by side with putative anammox bacteria (cells hybridizing with probe AMX820) throughout the biofilm, though ANOB were rarely detected.

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