Collaborative Research: NSF-BSF: Mainstream deammonification by ion exchange and bioregeneration via partial nitritation/anammox

Project: Research project

Project Details


Conventional wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are designed to remove harmful microorganisms, organic matter, and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. They achieve this using a combination of physical, chemical, and biological treatment processes. Recent research has established that the integrated biological process called partial nitritation and anammox (PN/A) can remove nitrogen while reducing energy costs or even producing energy. However, the concentration of ammonia in domestic wastewater is too low to support the growth of the microorganisms required to carry out the PN/A process. The goal of this project is to develop a novel system to create the conditions needed to run the PN/A process. To achieve this goal, an interdisciplinary team of researchers will pool their knowledge and resources to improve the PN/A process using low-cost naturally occurring mineral ion exchange (IX) material called zeolite. These will be combined to develop IX-PN/A reactors to create conditions for the growth of PN/A microbes. The team will then investigate and optimize the reactor operating conditions that favor the IX-PN/A process. Successful completion of this project will benefit society through the development of new designs for next-generation sustainable WWTPs. Further benefits to society will be achieved through student training and education including the recruitment and mentoring of students from community colleges and underrepresented groups in Pennsylvania and Florida.

Increasingly stringent nutrient discharge limits and concerns with energy consumption have driven a shift from energy-intensive wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to more sustainable energy positive resource recovery facilities. Integrated partial nitritation and anammox (PN/A) is one such process that has the potential to enable significant reductions in the energy consumption and carbon footprint of conventional WWTPs. However, the concentration of ammonia in domestic wastewater is too low for the microorganisms required to carry out the PN/A process to flourish. The goal of this project is to develop the fundamental knowledge required to advance the implementation of the PN/A process into conventional WWTPs. To achieve this goal, the research team will couple ion exchange (IX) with the PN/A process to create the microenvironment needed to improve the kinetics of the PN/A process. This will be achieved using new zeolite-based biofilm carriers in conjunction with novel bioreactor designs and operational strategies to advance the IX-PN/A process. The specific research objectives of this project are to: 1) evaluate the effects of reactor configuration and operating conditions on the performance of the IX-PN/A; 2) investigate the synergistic metabolic processes of the PN/A microorganisms using genomics and molecular tools; and 3) characterize flow and reactive transport in attached-growth biofilms using X-ray microtomography (micro CT). Successful completion of this project has potential for transformative impact through the development of new knowledge that will reduce the carbon footprint of biological nutrient removal processes used in WWTPs to manage eutrophication and health issues caused by nitrogen discharge.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date7/15/206/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $230,557.00


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