Developing and optimizing processes for biological nitrogen removal from tannery wastewaters in Ethiopia

University dissertation from Bioteknologi

Abstract: In Ethiopia industrial effluents containing high contents of organic matter, nitrogen and heavy metals are discharged into inland surface waters with little or no pre-treatment. Significant pollution concerns related to these effluents include dissolved oxygen depletion, toxicity and eutrophication of the receiving waters. This has not only forced the government to formulate regulations and standards for discharge limits but also resulted in an increasing interest and development of methods and systems by which wastewater can be recycled and used sustainably. The need for technologies for environmentally friendly treatment of industrial wastes such as tannery wastewaters is therefore obvious. Biological processes are not only cost effective but also environmentally sound alternatives to the chemical treatment of tannery wastewaters.The aim of the research presented in this thesis was to develop and optimize processes for biological nitrogen removal from tannery wastewaters and to identify the most efficient denitrifying organisms in tannery wastewaters laden with toxic substances. A pilot plant consisting of a predenitrification anoxic system, aerated nitrification compartment and a sedimentation tank (clarifier) all arranged in series was developed and installed on the premises of Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. In spite of high influent chromium and sulphide perturbations over the successive feeding phases, the performance of the pilot plant was encouraging. The overall removal efficiency of the pilot plant over the experimental feeding phases varied between 82-98% for total nitrogen, 95-98% for COD, 96-98% for BOD5, 46-95% for ammonia nitrogen, 95-99% for sulphide and 93-99% for trivalent Chromium. Six isolates from over 1000 pure cultures were identified as the most efficient denitrifying bacteria. From both cellular fatty acid profiles and 16S rRNA gene sequencing, the six selected strains were phylogenetically identified as Brachymonas denitrificans in the ?-subdivision of the Proteobacteria. All the six strains contain cd1-type nitrite reductase. The efficient isolates characterized in this study are of great value because of their excellent denitrifying properties and high tolerance to the concentrations of toxic compounds prevailing in tannery wastewaters. Bio-augmentation of the pilot plant with this bacterium showed a clear correlation between in situ denitrifying activities measured by nitrate uptake rate, population dynamics of the introduced B.denitrificans monitored by fluorescent in situ hybridization and the pilot plant performance, suggesting that the strategy of introducing this species for enhancing process performance has potential applications.Moreover, the nitrate-reducing, sulphur-oxidizing bacteria (NR-SOB) were also found in the pilot plant in abundance with steady sulphide removal efficiency during the study period. This could provide opportunities for the application of biologically mediated simultaneous removal of sulphide and nitrogen from tannery effluents. In addition to enriching high consortia of denitrifiers in the anoxic system to attain high denitrification efficiency and also improving the overall nitrification efficiency of the system, the predenitrification-nitrification pilot process plant stimulated the activity of indigenous NR-SOB to simultaneously remove sulphide from the system. Thus, the pilot plant was found to be operationally efficient for the removal of nitrogen, organic matter and other pollutants from tannery wastewaters.Keywords: Biological nitrogen and sulphide removal, denitrifying bacteria, nitrate-reducing, sulphur-oxidizing bacteria, nitrate uptake rate, fluorescent in situ hybridization, pollution, tannery effluents.