Moving denitrifying bioreactors beyond proof of concept: Introduction to the special section

Laura E. Christianson, Louis A. Schipper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Denitrifying bioreactors are organic carbon-filled excavations designed to enhance the natural process of denitrification for the simple, passive treatment of nitrate-nitrogen. Research on and installation of these bioreactors has accelerated within the past 10 years, particularly in watersheds concerned about high nonpoint-source nitrate loads and also for tertiary wastewater treatment. This special section, inspired by the meeting of the Managing Denitrification in Agronomic Systems Community at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, aims to firmly establish that denitrifying bioreactors for treatment of nitrate in drainage waters, groundwater, and some wastewaters have moved beyond the proof of concept. This collection of 14 papers expands the peer-reviewed literature of denitrifying bioreactors into new locations, applications, and environmental conditions. There is momentum behind the pairing of wood-based bioreactors with other media (biochar, corn cobs) and in novel designs (e.g., use within treatment trains or use of baffles) to broaden applicability into new kinds of waters and pollutants and to improve performance under challenging field conditions such as cool early season agricultural drainage. Concerns about negative bioreactor by-products (nitrous oxide and hydrogen sulfide emissions, start-up nutrient flushing) are ongoing, but this translates into a significant research opportunity to develop more advanced designs and to fine tune management strategies. Future research must think more broadly to address bioreactor impacts on holistic watershed health and greenhouse gas balances and to facilitate collaborations that allow investigation of mechanisms within the bioreactor "black box.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-761
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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