Remediation of incomplete nitrification and capacity increase of biofilters at different drinking water treatment plants through copper dosing

Florian Benedikt Wagner*, Peter Borch Nielsen, Rasmus Boe-Hansen, Hans-Jørgen Albrechtsen

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Drinking water treatment plants based on groundwater may suffer from incomplete ammonium removal, which deteriorates drinking water quality and constrains water utilities in the operation of their plants. Ammonium is normally removed through nitrification in biological granular media filters, and recent studies have demonstrated that dosing of copper can stimulate the removal of ammonium. Here, we investigated if copper dosing could generically improve ammonium removal of biofilters, at treatment plants with different characteristics. Copper was dosed at ≤1.5 μg Cu/L to biofilters at 10 groundwater treatment plants, all of which had displayed several years of incomplete nitrification. Plants exceeded the Danish national water quality standard of 0.05 mg NH4+/L by a factor of 2–12. Within only 2-3 weeks of dosing, ammonium removal rates increased significantly (up to 150%). Nitrification was fully established, with ammonium effluent concentrations of <0.01 mg NH4+-N/L at most plants, regardless of the differences in raw water chemistry, ammonium loading rates, filter design and operation, or treatment plant configuration. However, for filters without primary filtration, it took longer time to reach complete ammonium removal than for filters receiving prefiltered water, likely due to sorption of copper to iron oxides, at plants without prefiltration. With complete ammonium removal, we subjected two plants to short-term loading rate upshifts, to examine the filters' ability to cope with loading rate variations. After 2 months of dosing and an average loading rate of 1.0 g NH4+-N/m3 filter material/h, the loading rate was upshifted by 50%. Yet, a filter managed to completely remove all the influent ammonium, showing that with copper dosing the filter had extra capacity to remove ammonium even beyond its normal loading rates. Depth sampling revealed that the ammonium removal rate of the filter's upper 10 cm increased more than 7-fold from 0.67 to 4.90 g NH4+-N/m3/h, and that nitrite produced from increased ammonium oxidation was completely oxidized further to nitrate. Hence, no problems with nitrite accumulation or breakthrough occurred. Overall, copper dosing generically enhanced nitrification efficiency and allowed a range of quite different plants to meet water quality standards, even at increased loading rates. The capacity increase is highly relevant in practice, as it makes filters more robust towards sudden ammonium loading rate variations.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalWater Research
    Pages (from-to)42-51
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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