Optimizing hydraulic retention times in denitrifying woodchip bioreactors treating recirculating aquaculture system wastewater

Christine Lepine, Laura Christianson, Kata Sharrer, Steven Summerfelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The performance of wood-based denitrifying bioreactors to treat high-nitrate wastewaters from aquaculture systems has not previously been demonstrated. Four pilot-scale woodchip bioreactors (approximately 1:10 scale) were constructed and operated for 268 d to determine the optimal range of design hydraulic retention times (HRTs) for nitrate removal. The bioreactors were operated under HRTs ranging from 6.6 to 55 h with influent nitrate concentrations generally between 20 and 80 mg NO3 --N L-1. These combinations resulted in N removal rates >39 g N m-3 d-1, which is greater than previously reported. These high removal rates were due in large part to the relatively high chemical oxygen demand and warm temperature (~19°C) of the wastewater. An optimized design HRT may not be the same based on metrics of N removal rate versus N removal efficiency; longer HRTs demonstrated higher removal efficiencies, and shorter HRTs had higher removal rates. When nitrate influent concentrations were approximately 75 mg NO3-N L-1 (n = 6 sample events), the shortest HRT (12 h) had the lowest removal efficiency (45%) but a significantly greater removal rate than the two longest HRTs (42 and 55 h), which were N limited. Sulfate reduction was also observed under highly reduced conditions and was exacerbated under prolonged N-limited environments. Balancing the removal rate and removal efficiency for this water chemistry with a design HRT of approximately 24 h would result in a 65% removal efficiency and removal rates of at least 18 g N m-3 d-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-821
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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