Achieving nitrogen and phosphorus removal at low C/N ratios without aeration through a novel phototrophic process

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Conventional wastewater treatment technologies for biological nutrient removal (BNR) are highly dependent on aeration for oxygen supply, which represents a major operational cost of the process. Recently, phototrophic enhanced biological phosphorus removal (photo-EBPR) has been suggested as an alternative system for phosphorus removal, based on a consortium of photosynthetic microorganisms and chemotrophic bacteria, eliminating the need for costly aeration. However, wastewater treatment plants must couple nitrogen and phosphorus removal to achieve discharge limits. For this reason, a new microalgae-bacterial based system for phosphorus and nitrogen removal is proposed in this work. The photo-BNR system studied here consists of a sequencing batch reactor operated with dark anaerobic, light aerobic, dark anoxic and idle periods, to allow both N and P removal. Results of the study show that the photo-BNR system was able to remove 100% of the 40 mg N/L of ammonia fed to the reactor and 94 ± 3% of the total nitrogen (Influent COD:N ratio of 300:40, similar to domestic wastewater). Moreover, an average of 25 ± 9.2 mg P/L was simultaneously removed in the photo-BNR tests, representing the P removal capacity of this system, which exceeds the level of P removal required from typical domestic wastewater. Full ammonia removal was achieved during the light phase, with 67 ± 5% of this ammonia being assimilated by the microbial culture and the remaining 33 ± 5% being converted into nitrate. The assimilated P corresponded to 2.8 ± 0.23 mg P/L, which only represented, approximately, 1/9 of the P removal capacity of the system. Half of the nitrified ammonia was subsequently denitrified during the dark anoxic phase (50 ± 24%). Overall, the photo-BNR system represents the first treatment alternative for N and P from domestic wastewater with no need of mechanical aeration or supplemental carbon addition, representing an alternative low-energy technology of interest.

Original languageEnglish
Article number148501
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • Biological nutrients removal (BNR)
  • Greenhouse gases (GHG)
  • Microalgae-bacterial consortium
  • Nitrogen removal
  • No aeration
  • Polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs)


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