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Spatial and temporal variability in N2O generation and emission from wastewater treatment facilities

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Biological Nitrogen Removal (BNR) strategies could be a significant contributor to atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O) depending upon the reactor configurations and operating conditions. In the future, as BNR is implemented at more wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) around the globe, the flux of these gases to the atmosphere could significantly increase. Such increased releases would be a major concern since the greenhouse impact of nitrous oxide is about three hundred times that of carbon dioxide. Additionally, nitric oxide is converted to nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, which is a precursor to photochemical smog (ozone).

This study focuses on the quantification of the nitrous oxide and nitric oxide emissions inventory at several open surface wastewater treatment facilities and at developing a standard methodology for collection of full scale plant data from a range of WWTPs in the United States. Under the purview of this project, as a first crucial step, a detailed protocol for determining the nitrous oxide and nitric oxide emissions fluxes from activated sludge reactors was developed. Upon review by the USEPA the protocol has been implemented at several WWTPs nationwide and has revealed a significant contribution of nitrification to nitrous oxide fluxes, hitherto not considered in the IPCC and EPA approaches to quantifying N2O fluxes from waste treatment facilities. Additionally, a high degree of diurnal variability in N2O fluxes that correlate well with diurnal total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN) loadings has been measured. In combination, these results point to a diminishing utility of a lumped emission factor approach, that has been followed to date.
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Keywords: Nitrous oxide; biological nitrogen removal; spatial and temporal variability

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-01-01

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