Sewage Treatment with Anammox

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Science  07 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5979, pp. 702-703
DOI: 10.1126/science.1185941

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Organic matter must be removed from sewage to protect the quality of the water bodies that it is discharged to. Most current sewage treatment plants are aimed at removing organic matter only. They are energy-inefficient, whereas potentially the organic matter could be regarded as a source of energy. However, organic carbon is not the only pollutant in sewage: Fixed nitrogen such as ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3) must be removed to avoid toxic algal blooms in the environment. Conventional wastewater treatment systems for nitrogen removal require a lot of energy to create aerobic conditions for bacterial nitrification, and also use organic carbon to help remove nitrate by bacterial denitrification (see the figure). An alternative approach is the use of anoxic ammonium-oxidizing (anammox) bacteria, which require less energy (1) but grow relatively slowly. We explore process innovations that can speed up the anammox process and use all organic matter as much as possible for energy generation.