Heterotrophic denitrification of aquaculture effluent using fluidized sand biofilters

Scott Tsukuda, Laura Christianson, Alex Kolb, Keiko Saito, Steven Summerfelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to consistently and cost-effectively reduce nitrate-nitrogen loads in effluent from recirculating aquaculture systems would enhance the industry's environmental stewardship and allow improved facility proximity to large markets in sensitive watersheds. Heterotrophic denitrification technologies specifically employing organic carbon found in aquaculture system waste offer a unique synergy for treatment of land-based, closed-containment production outflows. For space-efficient fluidized sand biofilters to be used as such denitrification reactors, system parameters (e.g., influent dissolved oxygen and carbon to nitrogen ratios, C:N) must be evaluated to most effectively use an endogenous carbon source. The objectives of this work were to quantify nitrate removal under a range of C:Ns and to explore the biofilter bacterial community using three replicated fluidized sand biofilters (height 3.9m, diameter 0.31m; fluidized sand volume plus biofilm volume of 0.206m3) operated at a hydraulic retention time of 15min and a hydraulic loading rate of 188L/minm2 at The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, USA. Nitrate reduction was consistently observed during the biofilter study period (26.9±0.9% removal efficiency; 402±14g NO3-N/(m3biofilterd)) although nitrite-N and total ammonium nitrogen concentrations slightly increased (11 and 13% increases, respectively). Nitrate removal efficiency was correlated with carbonaceous oxygen demand to nitrate ratios (R2>0.70). Nitrate removal rates during the study period were moderately negatively correlated with influent dissolved oxygen concentration indicating it may be possible the biofilter hydraulic retention time was too short to provide optimized nitrate removal. It is reasonable to assume that the efficiency of nitrate removal across the fluidized sand biofilters could be substantially increased, as long as organic carbon was not limiting, by increasing biofilter bed depths (to 6-10m), and thus hydraulic retention time. These findings provide a low-cost yet effective technology to remove nitrate-nitrogen from effluent waters of land-based closed-containment aquaculture systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-59
Number of pages11
JournalAquacultural Engineering
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon
  • Denitrification
  • Fluidized sand biofilter
  • Nitrate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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