Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 1124–1141 | Cite as

Nitrate removal from drinking water with a focus on biological methods: a review

  • Fariba Rezvani
  • Mohammad-Hossein SarrafzadehEmail author
  • Sirous Ebrahimi
  • Hee-Mock OhEmail author
Water Industry: Water-Energy-Health Nexus


This article summarizes several developed and industrial technologies for nitrate removal from drinking water, including physicochemical and biological techniques, with a focus on autotrophic nitrate removal. Approaches are primarily classified into separation-based and elimination-based methods according to the fate of the nitrate in water treatment. Biological denitrification as a cost-effective and promising method of biological nitrate elimination is reviewed in terms of its removal process, applicability, efficiency, and associated disadvantages. The various pathways during biological nitrate removal, including assimilatory and dissimilatory nitrate reduction, are also explained. A comparative study was carried out to provide a better understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of autotrophic and heterotrophic denitrification. Sulfur-based and hydrogen-based denitrifications, which are the most common autotrophic processes of nitrate removal, are reviewed with the aim of presenting the salient features of hydrogenotrophic denitrification along with some drawbacks of the technology and research areas in which it could be used but currently is not. The application of algae-based water treatment is also introduced as a nature-inspired approach that may broaden future horizons of nitrate removal technology.


Drinking water Nitrate removal technology Autotrophic and heterotrophic denitrification Assimilatory and dissimilatory nitrate reduction Cost Microalgae 



United States Environmental Protection Agency


Maximum contaminant levels


World Health Organization


European Economic Community


Reverse osmosis


Ion exchange


Electro dialysis


Chemical denitrification


Biological denitrification


Strong base anion


Dissolved oxygen


Adenosine triphosphate


Hydraulic retention time


Chemical oxygen demand


Biological oxygen demand




Dissolved organic carbon


Disinfection byproduct


Bio-electrochemical reactor


Operations and maintenance



The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the University of Tehran under grant number 8104956/1/03, KRIBB Research Initiative Program, and the Advanced Biomass R&D Center (ABC) of the Global Frontier Program funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning (2010-0029723).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UNESCO Chair on Water Reuse, Biotechnology Group, School of Chemical Engineering, College of EngineeringUniversity of TehranTehranIran
  2. 2.Biotechnology Research Centre, Faculty of Chemical EngineeringSahand University of TechnologyTabrizIran
  3. 3.Cell Factory Research Centre, Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB)DaejeonRepublic of Korea

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