Analysis of nitrous oxide emissions from aerobic granular sludge treating high saline municipal wastewater

Benjamin J. Thwaites, Richard Stuetz, Michael Short, Petra Reeve, Juan Pablo Alvarez-Gaitan, Nirmala Dinesh, Renae Philips, Ben van den Akker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Conventional activated sludge (CAS)-based wastewater treatment processes have the potential to emit high concentrations of nitrous oxide (N2O) during nitrification and denitrification, which can significantly impact the environmental performance and carbon footprint of wastewater treatment operations. While N2O emissions from CAS have been extensively studied, there is little knowledge of N2O emissions from aerobic granular sludge (AGS) which is now an increasingly popular secondary treatment alternative. The N2O emissions performance of AGS needs to be investigated to ensure that the positive benefits of AGS, such as increased capacity and stable nutrient removal, are not offset by higher emissions. This study quantified N2O emissions from a pilot-scale AGS reactor operated under a range of organic loading rates. A second CAS pilot plant was operated in parallel and under identical loading rates to allow for side-by-side comparison of N2O emissions from floc-based activated sludge. Under low loadings of <0.6 kg COD/m3/d the N2O emission factor from AGS and CAS were similar, at around 1.46 ± 0.1% g N2Oemitted/g ammonium loaded. A step increase in the organic loading rate increased N2O emissions from AGS more so than CAS which appeared to be attributed to the reactor feeding strategy that was required for AGS formation. The use of a separate anaerobic feeding phase which was followed by the aeration phase, resulted in extended periods of low dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations combined with an initial high biomass ammonium loading rate, which favours N2O production and was exacerbated at higher organic loads. Conversely, the combined feeding plus aeration operation (aerobic feed) employed by the CAS system enabled a more even biomass ammonium loading rate and DO supply. This work has shown that while AGS has many operational benefits, the impacts that aeration profile, loading rate and feeding strategy have on N2O emissions must be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number143653
Number of pages11
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2021


  • Aerobic granular sludge
  • Conventional activated sludge
  • High-saline municipal wastewater treatment
  • Microbial ecology
  • Nitrous oxide emission


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