Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

MS in Engineering Science (M.S.E.S.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Sarina J. Ergas, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kebreab Ghebremichael, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Mihelcic, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Damann Anderson, M.S.


Pilot Study, Household Wastewater Treatment, Ion Exchange, Pyrite Oxidizing Denitrification, Oyster Shells, SEM-EDS


This research evaluates two different Biological Nitrogen Removal (BNR) systems for enhanced nitrogen removal in decentralized wastewater treatment. The first study evaluated the performance of Hybrid Adsorption and Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTS) at the pilot scale with and without stage 1 effluent recirculation. HABiTS is a system developed at the bench scale in our laboratory and was designed for enhanced BNR under transient loading conditions. It consists of two stages; an ion exchange (IX) onto clinoptilolite media coupled with biological nitrification in the aerobic nitrification stage 1 and a Tire-Sulfur Adsorption Denitrification (T-SHAD) system in the anoxic denitrification stage 2. The T-SHAD process incorporates NO3- adsorption onto tire chips and Sulfur Oxidizing Denitrification (SOD) using elemental sulfur as the electron donor for NO3- reduction. Previous bench scale studies evaluated HABiTS performance under transient loadings and found significantly higher removal of nitrogen with the incorporation of adsorptive media in stage 1 and 2 compared with controls (80% compared to 73%) under transient loading conditions.

In this study, we hypothesize that a HABiTS system with effluent recirculation in nitrification stage 1 may enhance nitrogen removal performance compared to that without recirculation. The following were the expected advantages of Stage 1 effluent recirculation for enhanced nitrogen removal:

1) Pre-denitrification driven by the mixture of nitrified effluent from stage 1 with high concentrations of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) septic tank effluent.

2) Moisture maintenance in stage 1 for enhanced biofilm growth.

3) Increased mass transfer of substrates to the biofilm in stage 1.

4) Decreased ratio of BOD to Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN) in the influent of stage 1.

Two side-by-side systems were run with the same media composition and fed by the same septic tank. One had a nitrification stage 1 effluent recirculation component (R-system), which operated at a 7:1 stage 1 effluent recirculation ratio for the first 49 days of the study and at 3:1 beginning on day 50 and one was operated under forward flow only conditions (FF-system). The R system removed a higher percentage of TIN (35.4%) in nitrification stage 1 compared to FF (28.8%) and had an overall TIN removal efficiency of 88.8% compared to 54.6% in FF system. As complete denitrification was observed in stage 2 throughout the study, overall removal was dependent on nitrification efficiency, and R-1 had a significantly higher NH4+ removal (87%) compared to FF-1 (70%). Alkalinity concentrations remained constant from stage 1 to stage 2, indicating that some heterotrophic denitrification was occurring along with SOD, as high amounts of sCOD leached from the tire chips in the beginning of the study, reaching sCOD concentrations of 120-160 mg L-1 then decreasing after day 10 of operation of stage 2. Sulfate concentrations from stage 2 for each side were low until the last 10 days of the study, with an average of 16.43 ± 11.36 mg L-1 SO42--S from R-2 and an average of 16.80 ± 7.98 SO42--S for FF-2 for the duration of the study, however at the end of the study when forward flow rates increased, SO42--S concentrations increased to 32 mg L-1 for R-2 and 40 mg L-1 for FF-2. Similar performance was observed in the FF system as the bench scale reactor tests.

The second part of the research focused on the findings from a study of a Particulate Pyrite Autotrophic Denitrification (PPAD) process that uses pyrite as the electron donor and nitrate as the terminal electron acceptor in upflow packed bed bioreactors. The advantages of using pyrite as an electron donor for denitrification include less sulfate production and lower alkalinity requirements compared with SOD. The low alkalinity consumption of the PPAD process led to comparison of PPAD performance with and without oyster shell addition. Two columns were operated side-by-side, one packed with pyrite and sand only (P+S), while another one was packed with pyrite, sand and oyster shell (P+S+OS). Sand was used as a nonreactive biofilm carrier in the columns. My contribution to this research was to carry out Scanning Electron Microscopy-Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) analysis to support the hypothesis that oyster shell contributes to nitrogen removal because it has a high capacity for biofilm attachment. SEM analysis showed that oyster shell has a rough surface, supported by its high specific surface area, and that there was more biofilm attached to oyster shell than pyrite or sand in the influent to the column. EDS results showed a decrease in atomic percentages for pyrite sulfur in the effluent of both columns (59.91% ± 0.10% to 53.94% ± 0.37% in P+S+OS column and to 57.61% ± 4.21% in P+S column). This finding indicated that sulfur was oxidized more than iron and/or the accumulation of iron species on the pyrite surface and supports the coupling of NO3- reduction with pyrite oxidation.