Abiotic Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Production Is Strongly pH Dependent, but Contributes Little to Overall N2O Emissions in Biological Nitrogen Removal Systems

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Hydroxylamine (NH2OH) and nitrite (NO2-), intermediates during the nitritation process, can engage in chemical (abiotic) reactions that lead to nitrous oxide (N2O) generation. Here, we quantify the kinetics and stoichiometry of the relevant abiotic reactions in a series of batch tests under different and relevant conditions, including pH, absence/presence of oxygen, and reactant concentrations. The highest N2O production rates were measured from NH2OH reaction with HNO2, followed by HNO2 reduction by Fe2+, NH2OH oxidation by Fe3+, and finally NH2OH disproportionation plus oxidation by O2. Compared to other examined factors, pH had the strongest effect on N2O formation rates. Acidic pH enhanced N2O production from the reaction of NH2OH with HNO2 indicating that HNO2 instead of NO2- was the reactant. In departure from previous studies, we estimate that abiotic N2O production contributes little (<3% of total N2O production) to total N2O emissions in typical nitritation reactor systems between pH 6.5 and 8. Abiotic contributions would only become important at acidic pH (≤ 5). In consideration of pH effects on both abiotic and biotic N2O production pathways, circumneutral pH set-points are suggested to minimize overall N2O emissions from nitritation systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)3508-3516
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2019

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