Pilot-scale evaluation of denitrification drainage bioreactors: Reactor geometry and performance

Laura E. Christianson, Alok Bhandari, Matthew J. Helmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Denitrification drainage bioreactors are emerging as an innovative practice to address water quality concerns stemming from nitrate leaching from drained agricultural lands. Although installation of these systems has begun in farms in the midwestern United States, the understanding of their design and in-field performance remains deficient. This study utilized a set of pilot-scale drainage bioreactors to evaluate the impact of bioreactor geometry on reactor hydraulic properties and to determine nitrate removal under steady-state conditions and during a simulated storm event. Bioreactors with different cross-sectional geometries but similar depths and total volumes were evaluated. The percent reduction of the influent nitrate mass was linearly correlated to the theoretical hydraulic retention time (HRT) with 30 to 70% NO3 - N removals observed within the 4 to 8h of retention time suggested for field installations. Tracer tests revealed that in situ HRTs were at least 1.5 times larger than theoretical HRTs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-220
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Environmental Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological processes
  • Bioreactor
  • Denitrification
  • Drainage
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrates
  • Water treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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