Hydroxylamine diffusion can enhance N2O emissions in nitrifying biofilms: A modeling study

Fabrizio Sabba, Cristian Picioreanu, Julio Pérez, Robert Nerenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Wastewater treatment plants can be significant sources of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas. However, little is known about N2O emissions from biofilm processes. We adapted an existing suspended-growth mathematical model to explore N2O emissions from nitrifying biofilms. The model included N2O formation by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) via the hydroxylamine and the nitrifier denitrification pathways. Our model suggested that N2O emissions from nitrifying biofilms could be significantly greater than from suspended growth systems under similar conditions. The main cause was the formation and diffusion of hydroxylamine, an AOB nitrification intermediate, from the aerobic to the anoxic regions of the biofilm. In the anoxic regions, hydroxylamine oxidation by AOB provided reducing equivalents used solely for nitrite reduction to N2O, since there was no competition with oxygen. For a continuous system, very high and very low dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations resulted in lower emissions, while intermediate values led to higher emissions. Higher bulk ammonia concentrations and greater biofilm thicknesses increased emissions. The model effectively predicted N2O emissions from an actual pilot-scale granular sludge reactor for sidestream nitritation, but significantly underestimated the emissions when the NH2OH diffusion coefficient was assumed to be minimal. This numerical study suggests an unexpected and important role of hydroxylamine in N2O emission in biofilms.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1486-1494
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 3 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2022-09-13

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemistry


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