Effects of free nitrous acid treatment conditions on the nitrite pathway performance in mainstream wastewater treatment

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Journal Article
Science of the Total Environment, 2018, 644 pp. 360 - 370
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© 2018 Elsevier B.V. Inline sludge treatment using free nitrous acid (FNA) was recently shown to be effective in establishing the nitrite pathway in a biological nitrogen removal system. However, the effects of FNA treatment conditions on the nitrite pathway performance remained to be investigated. In this study, three different FNA treatment frequencies (daily sludge treatment ratios of 0.22, 0.31 and 0.38, respectively), two FNA concentrations (1.35 mgN/L and 4.23 mgN/L, respectively) and two influent feeding regimes (one- and two-step feeding) were investigated in four laboratory-scale sequencing batch reactors. The nitrite accumulation ratio was positively correlated to the FNA treatment frequency. However, when a high treatment frequency was used e.g., daily sludge treatment ratio of 0.38, a significant reduction in ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) activity occurred, leading to poor ammonium oxidation. AOB were able to acclimatise to FNA concentrations up to of 4.23 mgN/L, whereas nitrite oxidizing bacteria (NOB) were limited by an FNA concentration of 1.35 mgN/L over the duration of the study (up to 120 days). This difference in sensitivity to FNA could be used to further enhance nitrite accumulation, with 90% accumulation achieved at an FNA concentration of 4.23 mgN/L and a daily sludge treatment ratio of 0.31 in this study. However, this high level of nitrite accumulation led to increased N2O emission, with emission factors of up to 3.9% observed. The N2O emission was mitigated (reduced to 1.3%) by applying two-step feeding resulting in a nitrite accumulation ratio of 45.1%. Economic analysis showed that choosing the optimal FNA treatment conditions depends on a combination of the wastewater characteristics, the nitrogen discharge standards, and the operational costs. This study provides important information for the optimisation and practical application of FNA-based sludge treatment technology for achieving the mainstream stable nitrite pathway.
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