Insights into Nitrous Oxide Mitigation Strategies in Wastewater Treatment and Challenges for Wider Implementation

Haoran Duan, Yingfen Zhao, Konrad Koch, George F. Wells, Min Zheng, Zhiguo Yuan, Liu Ye*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions account for the majority of the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Many N2O mitigation strategies have since been developed while a holistic view is still missing. This article reviews the state-of-the-art of N2O mitigation studies in wastewater treatment. Through analyzing existing studies, this article presents the essential knowledge to guide N2O mitigations, and the logics behind mitigation strategies. In practice, mitigations are mainly carried out by aeration control, feed scheme optimization, and process optimization. Despite increasingly more studies, real implementation remains rare, which is a combined result of unclear climate change policies/incentives, as well as technical challenges. Five critical technical challenges, as well as opportunities, of N2O mitigations were identified. It is proposed that (i) quantification methods for overall N2O emissions and pathway contributions need improvement; (ii) a reliable while straightforward mathematical model is required to quantify benefits and compare mitigation strategies; (iii) tailored risk assessment needs to be conducted for WWTPs, in which more long-term full-scale trials of N2O mitigation are urgently needed to enable robust assessments of the resulting operational costs and impact on nutrient removal performance; (iv) current mitigation strategies focus on centralized WWTPs, more investigations are warranted for decentralised systems, especially decentralized activated sludge WWTPs; and (v) N2O may be mitigated by adopting novel strategies promoting N2O reduction denitrification or microorganisms that emit less N2O. Overall, we conclude N2O mitigation research is reaching a maturity while challenges still exist for a wider implementation, especially in relation to the reliability of N2O mitigation strategies and potential risks to nutrient removal performances of WWTPs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7208-7224
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021


  • challenges
  • greenhouse gas
  • mitigation
  • nitrogen removal
  • nitrous oxide
  • perspectives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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