A new concept for ammonium removal from secondary effluent by zeolite followed by bio-regeneration has been studied. In contrast to other studies of hybrid biological-ion exchange multireactor systems, the proposed process uses the ion exchange material, zeolite, as the carrier for the nitrifying biomass. This enables the two mode process to be carried out in a single reactor.

In the first mode (ion exchange), secondary effluent is passed through an ion exchange column where ammonium is concentrated in the zeolite. During the second mode (bioregeneration), the absorbed ammonium is released gradually and converted to nitrate by the active biomass residing on the zeolite. Nitrification is carried out batchwise and in a small volume reactor where optimal conditions can easily be maintained. Moreover, the addition of chemicals for the desorption of ammonium is minimal due to regenerant reuse during several cycles of nitrification. As a result, operational costs and production of large volumes of brine are minimized.

Batch and breakthrough experiments showed that the amount of ammonium adsorbed on the chabazite is strongly affected by the presence of competing cations present in secondary effluent. A reduction of about 75% was observed when using a typical Israeli sewage ion composition. The attached biomass did not significantly effect the efficiency of the ion exchange column.

Ammonium desorption experiments showed that regeneration with 10,000 mg/L Na+ is much faster than with 2440 mg/L (more than 90% ammonium recovery after 40 and 70 bed volumes, respectively).

A nitrification rate of 6 g NH4-N/(L reactor *day) was obtained in a fluidized bed reactor with chabazite as the carrier. Although this rate is in the high range of reported values for biofilm reactors, desorption experiments proved that nitrification will be the process's rate limiting step, rather than the desorption rate when regenerant solutions as low as 2440 mg/L Na+ are used.

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