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Partial nitritation at elevated loading rates: design curves and biofilm characteristics

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There is a need to develop low operational intensity, cost-effective, and small-footprint systems to treat wastewater. Partial nitritation has been studied using a variety of control strategies, however, a gap in passive operation is evident. This research investigates the use of elevated loading rates as a strategy for achieving low operational intensity partial nitritation in a moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) system. The effects of loading rates on nitrification kinetics and biofilm characteristics were determined at elevated, steady dissolved oxygen concentrations between 5.5 and 7.0 mg O2/L and ambient temperatures between 19 and 21 °C. Four elevated loading rates (3, 4, 5 and 6.5 g NH4+-N/m2 days) were tested with a distinct shift in kinetics being observed towards nitritation at elevated loadings. Complete partial nitritation (100% nitrite production) was achieved at 6.5 g NH4+-N/m2 days, likely due to thick biofilm (572 µm) and elevated NH4+-N load, which resulted in suppression of nitrite oxidation.

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The authors acknowledge the NSERC CREATE TECHNOMISE program for their contributions as well as Veolia Water Technologies Canada for technical support and in kind donations.


This study was partially funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant and NSERC CREATE grant in Technologies for Microbiome Science and Engineering (TECHNOMISE CREATE 497995-2017).

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Correspondence to Robert Delatolla.

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Schopf, A., Delatolla, R. & Kirkwood, K.M. Partial nitritation at elevated loading rates: design curves and biofilm characteristics. Bioprocess Biosyst Eng 42, 1809–1818 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00449-019-02177-8

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  • Partial nitritation
  • Anammox
  • Surface area loading rate
  • Moving bed biofilm reactor
  • Small footprint