Applied denitrifying bioreactor cost efficiencies based on empirical construction costs and nitrate removal

Bryan M. Maxwell, Reid D. Christianson, Ryan Arch, Shirley Johnson, Ruth Book, Laura E. Christianson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adoption of edge-of-field conservation practices, such as denitrifying bioreactors, may be intrinsically linked to barriers associated with cost. However, most previous bioreactor cost efficiency assessments assumed values for either costs and/or nitrate removal. The objective of this work was to use actual construction costs as well as monitored nitrate removal to develop empirical cost efficiencies for eight full-size bioreactors in Illinois, USA. Capital construction costs were obtained via invoices or personal communications. A cash-flow discounting procedure was used to develop an equal annualized cost for each bioreactor assuming two media recharges over a 24-y planning horizon. These costs were combined with monitored nitrate removal based on one to six years of monitoring per site. Construction costs averaged $12,250 ± $7520 across the eight sites (or, $16,020 ± $9960 in 2023 price levels) but considering one of the sites was a paired bioreactor system, costs averaged $10,890 per bioreactor unit. Drainage treatment area-based cost averaged $132/ha-y and treatment area was strongly correlated with capital costs (R2 = 0.90; p = 0.001). The bioreactors averaged $108/m3 of woodchips and available federal government conservation programs could have offset an average of 70% of this cost. Monitored nitrate removal across 27 site-years resulted in a median of $33/kg N-y removed. This mass-based cost efficiency was higher than most previous assessments because the monitored nitrate removal for the study sites was lower than has been previously assumed or modeled. Future reporting about bioreactor recharge timing and cost will help guide assessment and planning. Water quality planning efforts should also consider the increasingly important engineering design costs, which were not included here. Suggested research and outreach to improve bioreactor cost efficiencies involves scaling the physical capacity of this technology for larger treatment areas, revisiting the use of low-cost non-standard fill media, and providing practical construction training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number120054
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Discounting
  • Edge-of-field
  • Nitrate
  • Water quality
  • Woodchip

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Environmental Engineering


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