Denitrifying Bioreactor In Situ Woodchip Bulk Density

Laura Christianson, Reid Christianson, Carolina Díaz-García, Gabriel Johnson, Bryan Maxwell, Richard A C Cooke, Niranga Wickramarathne, Lowell Gentry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Woodchip bulk density in a denitrifying bioreactor governs system hydraulics, but this prime physical attribute has never been estimated in situ. The objectives were twofold: (1) to establish estimates of in situ woodchip bulk density at bioreactors in the field, and (2) evaluate causal factors for and resulting impacts of these estimates. Proof-of-concept bulk density methods were developed at a pilot-scale bioreactor using three ways to estimate volume: surveying the excavated area, pumping the excavation full through a flow meter, and using iPhone Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). These methods were then further tested at two new and three old full-size bioreactors. Additional ex situ (off-site) testing with the associated woodchips included analysis of bulk density along a moisture gradient and particle size, particle density, wood composition, and hydraulic property testing. In situ dry bulk densities based on the entire volume of the new bioreactors (206-224 kg/m3) were similar to values from previous lab-scale studies. In situ estimates for woodchips at the bottom of aged bioreactors (22-mo. to 6-y) were unexpectedly low (120-166 kg/m3), given that these woodchips would presumably be the most compacted. These low moisture-content corrected dry bulk densities were influenced by high moisture contents in situ (>70% wet basis). The impacts of particle size and particle density on bulk density were somewhat mixed across the dataset, but in general, smaller woodchips had higher dry bulk densities than larger, and several woodchips sourced from the bottom of bioreactors had low particle densities. Although dry bulk densities in the zone of flow in bioreactors in the field were shown to be relatively low, the resulting permeability coefficients under those packing conditions did not differ from those of the original woodchips. The LiDAR-based volume estimation method was the most practical for large-scale, full-size evaluations and allowed high precision with small features (e.g., vertical reactor edges, drainage fittings).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)723-734
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the ASABE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • Compaction
  • Cone penetrometer
  • Drainable porosity
  • LiDAR
  • Moisture content
  • Survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Food Science
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Denitrifying Bioreactor In Situ Woodchip Bulk Density'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this