The Importance of Nitrogen in Wastewater Treatment and Its Environmental Impact

The importance of nitrogen goes hand in hand with its ill effects on the environment and organisms specifically humans as the heavy accumulation of the same in water bodies leads to hazardous effects such as eutrophication having direct impact on human health.

The major contributors to this nitrogen accumulation in water bodies are industries in the form of ammoniacal nitrogen. The pollution control bodies such as NGT and CPCB are very stringent about the ammoniacal nitrogen discharge through the effluent.

What is Nitrification and Denitrification in Wastewater Treatment?

Understanding Nitrification

Nitrification is a two-step aerobic process where ammonia (NH3) is converted into nitrate (NO3) through the action of specialized bacteria. This process occurs naturally in soil and water but is crucial in wastewater treatment to prevent ammonia toxicity and eutrophication in aquatic environments.

1. Ammonia Oxidation: The first step involves the conversion of ammonia to nitrite (NO2) by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) such as Nitrosomonas.

NH3 ​+O2  ​→ NO2+ 3H+ + 2e

2. Nitrite Oxidation: The second step involves the conversion of nitrite to nitrate by nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB) such as Nitrobacter.

NO2 ​ + 1/2​O2​ → NO3

Understanding Denitrification

Denitrification is an anaerobic process where nitrate is reduced to nitrogen gas (N2), which is then released into the atmosphere. This process helps in the removal of excess nitrogen from wastewater, thus preventing nutrient pollution.

  1. Nitrate Reduction: Nitrate is first reduced to nitrite.

NO3 ​→ NO2

  1. Nitrite Reduction: Nitrite is further reduced to nitric oxide (NO), nitrous oxide (N2O), and finally nitrogen gas.

NO2​ → NO → N2​O → N2

 The Role of Bioremediation in Wastewater Treatment:

Bioremediation leverages natural or engineered biological processes to degrade pollutants. In the context of nitrification and denitrification, bioremediation uses microbial communities to enhance nitrogen removal efficiently.

  1. Bioaugmentation: This involves the addition of specific strains of nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria to wastewater treatment systems. These microorganisms are selected for their efficiency in nitrogen transformation processes.
  • Nitrosomonas europaea and Nitrobacter winogradskyi are common bioaugmentation agents for nitrification.
  • Pseudomonas and Paracoccus species are effective for denitrification.
  1. Biostimulation: This approach involves optimizing the environmental conditions to favor the growth and activity of indigenous nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria. Parameters such as pH, temperature, oxygen levels, and nutrient availability are carefully controlled.
  2. Immobilization Techniques: Microorganisms can be immobilized on various carriers such as activated carbon, biochar, or synthetic polymers to enhance their stability and activity. This method can significantly improve the efficiency of nitrification and denitrification processes by providing a conducive environment for microbial growth and activity.

Ammoniacal nitrogen control highly depends on the microbes responsible for nitrification and denitrification as well as dissolved oxygen. While in the case of industries specific anoxic systems are designed to control the ammonia in the effluent.

 Anoxic Systems in Wastewater Treatment?

The anoxic system is designed to follow the nitrifying and denitrifying process.

  1. Nitrifying Tank: – It consists of an oxygen source specifically aerators to induce dissolved oxygen in the effluent, which nitrifying bacteria utilize to convert ammonia to nitrite.
  2. Denitrifying Tank: – This tank is devoid of any oxygen sources to induce denitrification where nitrite turns into nitrate with the help of denitrifying bacteria.
  1. Canal or Stream: – Here the wastewater is allowed to flow through a canal or a stream uniformly which allows the nitrogen gas to escape which is ultimately the degradation of bacteria.

The anoxic system is ideally amalgamated with popular and prominent wastewater treatment types to achieve the eradication of NH3-N. By understanding and implementing these processes, industries can significantly reduce their impact on the environment and comply with stringent regulations on ammoniacal nitrogen discharge.

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