A certain amount of nitrogen removal (20-30%) occurs in conventional activated sludge systems. Nitrogen removal ranging from 70 to 90 % can be obtained by use of nitrification-denitrification method in plants based on activated sludge and other suspended growth systems. Biological denitrification requires prior nitrification of all ammonia and organic nitrogen in the incoming waste.
There are two groups of chemoautotrophic bacteria that can be associated with the process of nitrification. One group (Nitrosomonas) derives its energy through the oxidation of ammonium to nitrite, whereas the other group (Nitrobacter) obtains energy through the oxidation of nitrite to nitrate. Both the groups, collectively called Nitrifiers, obtain carbon required, from inorganic carbon forms. Nitrification of ammonia to nitrate is a two step process:
NH3 NH4 NO2 NO3
Stoichiometrically, 4.6 kg of oxygen is required for nitrifying 1 kg of nitrogen. Under steady state conditions, experimental evidence has shown nitrite accumulation to be insignificant. This suggests that the rate-limiting step for the conversion of ammonium to nitrate is the oxidation of ammonium to nitrite by the genus Nitrosomonas.
qc = 1
where m is the growth rate of nitrosomonas at the worst operating temperature. Sludge age (or mean cell residence time), qc in a treatment plant must be sufficiently high if nitrification is desired.
Combined and Separate Systems of Biological Oxidation & Nitrification
Following figure shows flow sheets for combined and separate systems for biological oxidation and nitrification.