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Comment Water Treatment

Red microbes make a meal from ammonia

By Chemical Engineering |

For a biological denitrification process that selectively converts ammonia into nitrogen gas, Paques B.V. (Balk, Netherlands; edlinks.chemengonline.com/6891-536) was among the winners of the EEP environmental award, which was presented at Pollutec 2006 (Lyon, France; 28 November–December 1).

Developed in collaboration with Delft University of Technology and the University of Nijmegen (both Netherlands), the Anammox process (for anaerobic ammonia oxidation) is a shortcut to the natural nitrogen cycle (diagram). The process is performed by a group of planctomycete bacteria, of which Brocadia anammoxidans was the first to be identified. The red-colored Anammox bacteria (photo) are able to convert ammonium (NH4+) and nitrite ions (NO2–) into N2. Because the bacteria are autotrophic, no carbon source, such as methanol, is required. Air is supplied to the reactor to drive the reaction, and controlled by the NH4+ concentration, which is continuously monitored in the reactor. The reactor is also equipped with an internal settling system that retains the biomass.

Compared to conventional biological treatment, the air supply — and thus the power consumption — are reduced by 60%, says sales manager Carl Schultz. In general, the total treatment cost (including capital investment) with Anammox is about €1–1.5/kg of nitrogen removed, compared to €3–5/kg nitrogen for conventional treatment, he says. Anammox is suitable for treating wastewater with a relatively high (>200 mg/L) ammonia concentration.

The first commercial Anammox plant — a 500 kg N/d unit treating the rejection water from a sludge digester at a municipal treatment facility in the Netherlands — has been operating since 2002. Since then, three additional plants have been constructed for applications in the tanning, food-processing and semiconductor industries.


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