Comparing the Resistance, Resilience, and Stability of Replicate Moving Bed Biofilm and Suspended Growth Combined Nitritation-Anammox Reactors

G. F. Wells*, Y. Shi, M. Laureni, A. Rosenthal, I. Szivák, D. G. Weissbrodt, A. Joss, H. Buergmann, D. R. Johnson, E. Morgenroth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Combined partial nitritation-anammox (PN/A) systems are increasingly being employed for sustainable removal of nitrogen from wastewater, but process instabilities present ongoing challenges for practitioners. The goal of this study was to elucidate differences in process stability between PN/A process variations employing two distinct aggregate types: biofilm [in moving bed biofilm reactors (MBBRs)] and suspended growth biomass. Triplicate reactors for each process variation were studied under baseline conditions and in response to a series of transient perturbations. MBBRs displayed elevated NH4+ removal rates relative to those of suspended growth counterparts over six months of unperturbed baseline operation but also exhibited significantly greater variability in performance. Transient perturbations led to strikingly divergent yet reproducible behavior in biofilm versus suspended growth systems. A temperature perturbation prompted a sharp reduction in NH4+ removal rates with no accumulation of NO2- and rapid recovery in MBBRs, compared to a similar reduction in NH4+ removal rates but a high level of accumulation of NO2- in suspended growth reactors. Pulse additions of a nitrification inhibitor (allylthiourea) prompted only moderate declines in performance in suspended growth reactors compared to sharp decreases in NH4+ removal rates in MBBRs. Quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization demonstrated a significant enrichment of anammox in MBBRs compared to suspended growth reactors, and conversely a proportionally higher AOB abundance in suspended growth reactors. Overall, MBBRs displayed significantly increased susceptibility to transient perturbations employed in this study compared to that of suspended growth counterparts (stability parameter), including significantly longer recovery times (resilience). No significant difference in the maximal impact of perturbations (resistance) was apparent. Taken together, our results suggest that aggregate architecture (biofilm vs suspended growth) in PN/A processes exerts an unexpectedly strong influence on process stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5108-5117
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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