Effect of different C/N ratios and hydraulic retention times on denitrification in saline, recirculating aquaculture system effluents

Mathis von Ahnen*, Johanne Dalsgaard, Per Bovbjerg Pedersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Data on operation and performance of cost-effective solutions for end-of-pipe removal of nitrate from land-based saltwater recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are scarce but increasingly requested by the aquaculture industry. This study investigated the performance of a (semi)commercial-scale fixed-bed denitrification unit using single sludge for treating effluent from a commercial, saltwater RAS used for production of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). A fixed-bed denitrification reactor was fed continuously with 3-days hydrolyzed sludge from the commercial RAS, and was operated at different hydraulic retention times (HRTs; 1.82, 3.64, 5.46, or 7.28 h) or influent C/N ratios (3, 5, 7, or 10). Twenty-four h pooled samples were collected from the inflowing RAS water and the hydrolyzed sludge as well as from the denitrification reactor outlet, and samples were analyzed for nutrients and organic matter content.

Nitrate removal rates increased consistently with decreasing HRT (from 64.3 ± 5.2–162.7 ± 22.0 g NO3-N/m3/d within the HRTs tested) at non-limiting C/N ratios, while nitrate removal efficiencies decreased (from 99.6 ± 0.3–58.2 ± 8.9 %). With increasing influent C/N ratios at constant HRT (3.64 h), nitrate removal rates increased until the removal efficiency was close to 100 % and nitrate concentration in the denitrification reactor became rate-limiting. A maximum nitrate removal rate of 162.7 ± 2.0 g NO3-N/m3/d was achieved at a HRT of 1.82 h and an influent C/N of 6.6 ± 0.5, while the most efficient use of hydrolyzed sludge (0.19 ± 0.02 g NO3-N removed/g sCOD supplied) was obtained with a HRT of 3.64 h and a C/N ratio of 2.9. Removal rates of organic matter significantly and consistently increased with decreasing HRT and increasing C/N ratio. In addition, reducing HRT and increasing C/N ratios significantly improved removal of total phosphorus (TP) and PO4-P.

In conclusion, optimal management of the operating parameters (HRT and C/N ratio) in a single-sludge denitrification process can significantly reduce the discharge of nitrogen, organic matter, and phosphorous from land-based saltwater RAS and thus contribute to increased sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102170
JournalAquacultural Engineering
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Nitrate
  • Nitrogen
  • Sludge
  • Organic water
  • End-of-pipe


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