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Vazquez-Rodriguez G.A. and J.L. Rols (1997) Study of the nitrification process with activated sludge : inhibiting effect of ammonia on nitrifying bacteria. Rev. Sci. Eau 10 (3) : 359-375. [article in French]

Original title: Étude du processus de nitratation avec des boues activées : effet inhibiteur de l'ammoniac sur les bactéries nitratantes.

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This paper focuses both on nitrification and on inhibition by ammonia of the bacteria responsible for this process in activated sludge (nitrifying bacteria). Nitrification (autotrophic nitrite oxidation to nitrate) is the limiting step in wastewater treatment plants during nitrogen biological treatment (ammonia is known as the major inhibitor).

To assess the effects of environmental conditions on nitrification, respirometric measurements of a nitrifying bacteria-enriched activated sludge were carried out using a chemostat providing a stable nitrite-oxidizing population. The influence of pH, temperature, and the free ammonia concentration [NH3-N] was studied. The maximum activity of the nitrifying bacteria was found at pH 7.8 and at 29 oC, with the 90% range of maximum activity lying between pH values of 7.5 and 8.1. Activation and deactivation energies for nitrification were estimated by Arrhenius analysis to be 12.2 and - 41.5 kcal/mol, respectively. A Q10 value (multiplicative factor of oxygen consumption rate for each 10oC increase) of 2.8 was determined. Saturation or half-velocity coefficient (Ks) and maximum specific rate of nitrite oxidation (QSmax) were calculated by respirometric measurements, and are 3.04 mg NO2--N/l and 61 mg NO2--N/g VSS.h, respectively. In the study of effect of free ammonia, respirometric measurements were performed at ammonia concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 70 mg NH3-N/l. For a concentration of 11.4 mg NH3-N/l, a nitrification inhibition degree of 60% was reached. Contrary to the work of Anthonisen et al. (1976), which showed total inhibition of nitrifying bacteria at a concentration of 1 mg NH3-N/l, our results indicate a residual respiration, even at a concentration of 70 mg NH3-N/l. This displacement of total inhibition could be due to the predominance of nitrifying bacteria in the activated sludge used.

In the second phase of the present research, our results were validated for another mixed bacterial population that was not enriched in nitrifying bacteria. Different concentrations of NH3 were imposed in flask cultures of nitrifying activated sludge, to assess the inhibition thresholds for ammonia. Between 0 and 10 mg NH3-N/l, the degrees of inhibition were inferior to those obtained by respirometric measurements for cultures enriched with nitrifying bacteria, except at 10 mg NH3-N/l, where about 58% inhibition was achieved. The effect of the total biomass concentration of nitrifying activated sludge was also studied. An ammonia concentration of 3 mg NH3-N/l was used in flask cultures with different biomass concentrations (0.1 to 2 g VSS/l). This variable was not significant as similar specific nitrite oxidation rates were measured in all cultures. Inhibitory effects of ammonia on nitrifying bacteria activity seem to be complex and strongly dependent on other environmental factors which modify the dynamics of biomass growth.


Nitrification, inhibition, ammonia, respirometry, activated sludge.

Corresponding author

JL Rols, Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, Département de Génie Biochimique et Alimentaire, Centre de Bioingénierie Gilbert Durand, UMR CNRS 5504, LA INRA - Complexe Scientifique de Rangueil, 31077 Toulouse Cedex 4, FRANCE

Email : goma@insatlse.insa-tlse.fr
Telephone : +33 04 61 55 97 30 / Fax : +33 04 61 55 96 73

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Update: 2006-12-19
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