A continuously aerated SHARON (single reactor high activity ammonia removal over nitrite) system has been operated to achieve partial nitritation. Two sets of batch experiments were carried out to study the effect of ammonia concentration and salinity on the activity of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB). Activity of AOB raised as free ammonia concentration was increased reaching its maximum value at 4.5 mg NH3-N l−1. The half saturation constant for free ammonia was determined (KNH3 = 0.32 mg NH3-N l−1). Activity decreased at TAN (total ammonium–nitrogen) concentration over 2,000 mg NH4-N l−1. No free ammonia inhibition was detected. The effect of salinity was studied by adding different concentrations of different salts to the biomass. No significant differences were observed between the experiments carried out with a salt containing or not containing NH4. These results support that AOB are inhibited by salinity, not by free ammonia. A mathematical expression to represent this inhibition is proposed. To compare substrate affinity and salinity inhibitory effect on different AOB populations, similar experiments were carried out with biomass from a biological nutrient removal pilot plant. The AOB activity reached its maximum value at 0.008 mg NH3-N l−1 and decreased at TAN concentration over 400 mg NH4-N l−1. These differences can be explained by the different AOB predominating species: Nitrosomonas europaea and N. eutropha in the SHARON biomass and Nitrosomonas oligotropha in the pilot plant.

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