Mitigating nitrous oxide emissions at a full-scale wastewater treatment plant

Haoran Duan, Ben van den Akker, Benjamin J. Thwaites, Lai Peng, Caroline Herman, Yuting Pan, Bing-Jie Ni, Shane Watt, Zhiguo Yuan, Liu Ye

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53 Citations (Scopus)


Mitigation of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions is of primary importance to meet the targets of reducing carbon footprints of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Despite of a large amount of N2O mitigation studies conducted in laboratories, full-scale implementation of N2O mitigation is scarce, mainly due to uncertainties of mitigation effectiveness, validation of N2O mathematical model, risks to nutrient removal performance and additional costs. This study aims to address the uncertainties by investigating the quantification, development and implementation of N2O mitigation strategies at a full-scale sequencing batch reactor (SBR). To achieve this, N2O emission dynamics, nutrient removal performance and operation of the SBR were monitored to quantify N2O emissions, and identify the N2O generation mechanisms. N2O mitigation strategies centered on reducing dissolved oxygen (DO) levels were consequently proposed and evaluated using a multi-pathway N2O production mathematical model before implementation. The implemented mitigation strategy resulted in a 35% reduction in N2O emissions (from the emission factor of 0.89 ± 0.05 to 0.58 ± 0.06%), which was equivalent to annual reduction of 2.35 tonne of N2O from the studied WWTP. This could be mainly attributed to reductions in N2O generated via the NH2OH oxidation pathway due to the lowering of DO level. As the first reported mitigation strategy permanently implemented at a full scale WWTP, it showcased that the mitigation of N2O emissions at full-scale is feasible and that widely accepted N2O mitigation strategies developed in laboratory studies are also likely effective in full-scale plants. Furthermore, the close agreement between the validated and predicted N2O emission factors (0.58% vs 0.55%, respectively), showed that the N2O mathematical model is a useful tool to evaluate N2O mitigation strategies at full-scale. Importantly this work demonstrated that N2O mitigation does not necessarily require additional operational cost to meet reduction targets. In contrast, the N2O mitigation applied here reduced energy requirements for aeration by 20%. Equally important, long-term monitoring identified that N2O mitigation did not affect the nutrient removal performance of the plant. Finally, with the knowledge acquired in this study, a standard approach for mitigating N2O emissions from full-scale treatment plants was proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116196
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020


  • Full-scale
  • Mitigation
  • Nitrogen removal
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Wastewater treatment


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