An efficient and economical alternative for the treatment of landfill leachates with a high nitrogen content

Researcher at the UdG LEQUIA research group Maël Ruscalleda has developed the application of the PANAMMOX ® process based on the use of certain unique autotrophic bacteria, Anammox, which are capable of removing nitrogen from water with no need of organic matter.

Researcher Maël Ruscalleda presented a more efficient and economical alternative for the treatment of wastewater with a high content of ammoniacal nitrogen such as landfill leachates. This advance is showed in his doctoral thesis, prepared within the Laboratory of Chemical and Environmental Engineering research group (LEQUIA) at the University of Girona and with the collaboration with the firm CESPA since 2001.

The process is based on the use of some unique autotroph bacteria called Anammox (English acronym of Anaerobic Ammonium Oxidation), which are capable of removing nitrogen from water without the need to provide organic matter. In his work, the researcher has proved the application of the Anammox process for the treatment of landfill leachates so as to provide an economically viable solution to a real problem which needs to be sorted out in landfills.

The two sides of nitrogen
One of the major problems of industrial wastewater is its high content in ammoniacal nitrogen. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for life but an excessive discharge of it in aquatic environments ends up causing serious problems such as eutrophication and death of fish by anoxia.

Among the different types of wastewater, there are special cases such as landfill leachates, which have extreme concentrations of nitrogen and very little biodegradable organic matter. The removal of this nitrogen by means of conventional processes of treatment plants causes energy and reagent consumption to shoot up, which increases the treatment costs.

The PANAMMOX ® process
Landfill leachates are highly polluting waters, generated by the infiltration of water and the degradation of its own waste dumped in controlled landfills. In addition, they are one of the most serious problems affecting these solid waste treatment facilities because of the high cost of the treatment required for its purification.

Compared with the bacteria commonly used in industrial wastewater treatment, the growth of Anammox bacteria is extremely slow and it makes it very difficult to implement new plants which use this technology. In his thesis, entitled ‘Treatment of nature urban landfill leachates by Anammox process’ the LEQUIA researcher launched biological reactors enriched with Anammox bacteria and has proved that it is possible to treat landfill leachates at a laboratory and semi-industrial scale. In this work, the researcher has also looked into which are the determining factors for an efficient implementation and an optimal operation of the process, laying the groundwork for a future industrial application.

The first treatment plant using the PANAMMOX ® technology in the world is expected to start functioning in 2014, within the framework of the N-Optimox project which the firm CESPA and the UdG research group LEQUIA have been carrying out, with the funding of the Ministry of Economy and Innovation.

Maël Ruscalleda (Grenoble – France, 1982) graduated in Environmental Science and Master’s in Water Science and Technology by the University of Girona. In 2006 he began his doctoral studies in the Laboratory of Chemical and Environmental Engineering research group (LEQUIA) at the UDG. His doctoral dissertation was directed by Dr. Maria Dolors Balaguer and Dr. Jesús Colprim.

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