In order to investigate the upper limit of aerated biofilm processes, a series of experiments has been carried out on a pilot scale with a synthetic effluent containing only ammonium nitrogen and inorganic carbon as substrates. The influence of water velocity, air velocity and media height has been studied without the interaction of organic carbon and suspended solids. Under these conditions, the increase of the hydraulic load has a positive effect on the maximum nitrified load, despite the shortening of contact time. The pilot plant was able to nitrify 2.7 kg NH4+-N/m3.d at 14° C with an empty bed hydraulic retention time as short as 6 minutes - under a 30 m3/m2.h hydraulic load. It was also demonstrated that a cubic meter of granular bed presents the same nitrification capacity in a 3 m or in a 4 m media high biofilter, only if placed under the same conditions of air and water velocities. The results confirmed that water velocity significantly improves substrate bulk/biofilm transfer, and demonstrated that neither a contact time - based on the pore volume - as short as 2 minutes nor a media height of 4 m limit the nitrification rate.

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