Substrate Diffusion within Biofilms Significantly Influencing the Electron Competition during Denitrification

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Journal Article
Environmental Science and Technology, 2019, 53 (1), pp. 261 - 269
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© 2018 American Chemical Society. A common and long-existing operational issue of wastewater denitrification is the unexpected accumulation of nitrite (NO 2- ) that could suppress the activity of various microorganisms involved in biological wastewater treatment process and nitrous oxide (N 2 O) that could emit as a potent greenhouse gas. Recently, it has been confirmed that the accumulation of these denitrification intermediates in biological wastewater treatment process is greatly influenced by the electron competition between the four denitrification steps. However, little is known about this in biofilm systems. In this work, we applied a mathematical model that links carbon oxidation and nitrogen reduction processes through a pool of electron carriers, to assess electron competition in denitrifying biofilms. Simulations were performed comprehensively at seven combinations of electron acceptor addition scheme (i.e., simultaneous addition of one, two or three among nitrate (NO 3- ), NO 2- , and N 2 O) to compare the effect of electron competition on NO 3- , NO 2- and N 2 O reduction. Overall, the effects of substrate loading, biofilm thickness and effective diffusion coefficients on electron competition are not always intuitive. Model simulations show that electron competition was intensified due to the substrate load limitation (from 120 to 20 mg COD/L) and increasing biofilm thicknesses (from 0.1 to 1.6 mm) in most cases, where electrons were prioritized to nitrite reductase because of the insufficient electron donor availability in the biofilm. In contrast, increasing effective diffusion coefficients did not pose a significant effect on electron competition and only increased electrons distributed to nitrite reductase when both NO 2- and N 2 O are added.
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