Nitrification at high ammonia loading rates in an activated sludge unit

J. L. Campos, J. M. Garrido-Fernández, R. Méndez, J. M. Lema

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84 Scopus citations


Effective nitrification of ammonia at high nitrogen loading rates, up to 7.5 kg N-NH4+ m-3 d-1 was obtained in a nitrifying activated sludge unit working at a hydraulic retention time of 1.3 h and 20°C. Bicarbonate, used as a carbon source for autotrophic microorganisms, allowed maintainance of a system very stable against different shocks due to point deficiencies of oxygen or other accidents. Ammonia conversion to nitrate was normally between 97 and 99.9%. Temporary accumulations of nitrite were quickly transformed into nitrate. The relative low specific conversion rate of the biomass in the reactor (0.5-0.7 g-N-NH4+ g-VSS-1 d-1 was compensated by the capacity of the unit to retain high concentrations of biomass (up to 15 g-VSS l-1) due to the excellent characteristics of the biomass (Sludge Volume Index of 12 ml g-VSS-1; Zone Settling Velocity of 9 m h-1. Present results show that activated sludge units can be operated efficiently as a high-rate nitrifying technology. This well-known, robust and easy to operate technology is a clear alternative to the airlift or fluidised-bed systems, which can be applied for the nitrification of high load wastewater at full scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-148
Number of pages8
JournalBioresource Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Activated sludge
  • Ammonia loading rate
  • Nitrification
  • Sludge volume index


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