Impact of external carbon dose on the removal of micropollutants using methanol and ethanol in post-denitrifying Moving Bed Biofilm Reactors

Elena Torresi, Mònica Escolà Casas, Fabio Polesel, Benedek G. Plósz, Magnus Christensson, Kai Bester

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    Addition of external carbon sources to post-denitrification systems is frequently used in wastewater treatment plants to enhance nitrate removal. However, little is known about the fate of micropollutants in post-denitrification systems and the influence of external carbon dosing on their removal. In this study, we assessed the effects of two different types and availability of commonly used carbon sources -methanol and ethanol- on the removal of micropollutants in biofilm systems. Two laboratory-scale moving bed biofilm reactors (MBBRs), containing AnoxKaldnes K1 carriers with acclimated biofilm from full-scale systems, were operated in continuous-flow using wastewater dosed with methanol and ethanol, respectively. Batch experiments with 22 spiked pharmaceuticals were performed to assess removal kinetics. Acetyl-sulfadiazine, atenolol, citalopram, propranolol and trimethoprim were easily biotransformed in both MBBRs (biotransformations rate constants kbio between 1.2 and 12.9 L gbiomass(-1) d(-1)), 13 compounds were moderately biotransformed (rate constants between 0.2 and 2 L gbiomass(-1) d(-1)) and 4 compounds were recalcitrant. The methanol-dosed MBBR showed higher kbio (e.g., 1.5-2.5-fold) than in the ethanol-dosed MBBR for 9 out of the 22 studied compounds, equal kbio for 10 compounds, while 3 compounds (i.e., targeted sulfonamides) were biotransformed faster in the ethanol-dosed MBBR. While biotransformation of most of the targeted compounds followed first-order kinetics, removal of venlafaxine, carbamazepine, sulfamethoxazole and sulfamethizole could be described with a cometabolic model. Analyses of the microbial composition in the biofilms using 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing revealed that the methanol-dosed MBBR contained higher microbial richness than the one dosed with ethanol, suggesting that improved biotransformation of targeted compounds could be associated with higher microbial richness. During continuous-flow operation, at conditions representative of full-scale denitrification systems (hydraulic residence time = 2 h), the removal efficiencies of micropollutants were below 35% in both MBBRs, with the exception of atenolol and trimethoprim (>80%). Overall, this study demonstrated that MBBRs used for post-denitrification could be optimized to enhance the biotransformation of a number of micropollutants by accounting for optimal carbon sources and extended residence time.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalWater Research
    Pages (from-to)95-105
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • Biofilms
    • Carbon source
    • Denitrification
    • MBBR
    • Pharmaceuticals
    • Wastewater


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