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Investigations of Nitrogen Removal Pathways in a Biological Packed Bed Reactor Using Elementary Mass Balances

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Nitrogen (N) cycle involves a complex set of potential biochemical pathways with reactions catalyzed by different microorganisms. Elementary mass balances for COD, DO, NH4-N and alkalinity were conducted and stoichiometric relationships were investigated to explain possible pathways of the nitrogen removal mechanisms in a lab-scale submerged down flow biological packed bed (BPB) reactor. Four sets of experiments were performed by modifying the organic loading and C/N ratio in comparison with steady-state conditions. Approximately 90% of COD and NH4-N removal occurred in two upper sections occupying 1/5 of the reactor height. The elementary mass balances could not explain all the experimental results with respect to nitrogen removal and oxygen consumption by known mechanisms. The mass balance calculations, excluding the possibility of nitrification, were in general in accordance with the observations indicating no or minimal NO3-N production. The theoretical stoichiometric requirements for nitrification reaction were satisfied in 6 experiments and in another 8 experiments nitrification may have occurred, but stoichiometry was not satisfied. Using C/N ratio as the variable, only at C/N ratio = 10, the predictions confirmed the possibility of nitrification in the same 3 (out of 4) assays as observed in practice. The results of this study reveal that the nitrogen transformations occurring in the studied reactor are complex and cannot be explained by simple mechanisms of microbial assimilation and nitrification.
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Keywords: Nitrogen removal; biological packed bed reactor; mass balances; stoichiometry

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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