Biological nitrogen removal via the nitrite pathway in wastewater treatment is very important in saving the cost of aeration and as an electron donor for denitrification. Wastewater nitrification and nitrite accumulation were carried out in a biofilm airlift reactor with autotrophic nitrifying biofilm. The biofilm reactor showed almost complete nitrification and most of the oxidized ammonium was present as nitrite at the ammonium load of 1.5 to 3.5 kg N/m3·d. Nitrite accumulation was stably achieved by the selective inhibition of nitrite oxidizers with free ammonia and dissolved oxygen limitation. Stable 100% conversion to nitrite could also be achieved even under the absence of free ammonia inhibition on nitrite oxidizers. Batch ammonium oxidation and nitrite oxidation with nitrite accumulating nitrifying biofilm showed that nitrite oxidation was completely inhibited when free ammonia is higher than 0.2 mg N/L. However, nitrite oxidation activity was recovered as soon as the free ammonia concentration was below the threshold level when dissolved oxygen concentration was not the limiting factor. Fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis of cryosectioned nitrite accumulating nitrifying biofilm showed that the β-subclass of Proteobacteria, where ammonia oxidizers belong, was distributed outside the biofilm whereas the α-subclass of Proteobacteria, where nitrite oxidizers belong, was found mainly in the inner part of the biofilm. It is likely that dissolved oxygen deficiency or limitation in the inner part of the nitrifying biofilm, where nitrite oxidizers exist, is responsible for the complete shut down of the nitrite oxidizers activity under the absence of free ammonia inhibition.

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