The cultivation of nitritation granules in sequencing batch reactor (SBR) by seeding conventional floccular activated sludge was investigated using ethanol-based synthetic wastewater. Reducing settling time offers selection pressure for aerobic granulation, and stepwise increase of influent N/C ratio can help to selectively enrich ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) in aerobic granules. The spherical shaped granules were observed with the mean diameter of 1.25 mm, average settling velocity of 1.9 cm s−1 and the sludge volume index (SVI) of 18.5–31.4 ml g−1. After 25 days of operation, the nitrogen loading rate reached 0.0455 kg NH4+-N (kg MLSS·d)−1, which was 4.55 times higher than that of the start-up period. The mature granules showed high nitrification ability. Ammonia removal efficiency was above 95% and nitrite accumulation ratio was in the range of 80–95%. The nitrifying bacteria were quantified by fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis, which indicated that AOB was 14.9 ± 0.5% of the total bacteria and nitrite oxidizing bacteria (NOB) was 0.89 ± 0.1% of the total bacteria. Therefore, AOB was the dominant nitrifying bacteria. It was concluded that the associated inhibition of free ammonia at the start of each cycle and free nitrous acid during the later phase of aeration may be the key factors to start up and maintain the stable nitritation.

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