Back to overview Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Water Research X
Volume (Issue) 11
Page(s) 100098 - 100098
Title of proceedings Water Research X
DOI 10.1016/j.wroa.2021.100098

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a strong greenhouse gas and causal for stratospheric ozone depletion. During biological nitrogen removal in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), high N2O fluxes to the atmosphere can occur, typically exhibiting a seasonal emission pattern. Attempts to explain the peak emission phases in winter and spring using physico-chemical process data from WWTP were so far unsuccessful and new approaches are required. The complex and diverse microbial community of activated sludge used in biological treatment systems also exhibit substantial seasonal patterns. However, a potentially causal link between the seasonal patterns of microbial diversity and N2O emissions has not yet been investigated. Here we show that in a full-scale WWTP nitrification failure and N2O peak emissions, bad settleability of the activated sludge and a turbid effluent strongly correlate with a significant reduction in the microbial community diversity and shifts in community composition. During episodes of impaired performance, we observed a significant reduction in abundance for filamentous and nitrite oxidizing bacteria in all affected reactors. In some reactors that did not exhibit nitrification and settling failures, we observed a stable microbial community and no drastic loss of species. Standard engineering approaches to stabilize nitrification, such as increasing the aerobic sludge age and oxygen availability failed to improve the plant performance on this particular WWTP and replacing the activated sludge was the only measure applied by the operators to recover treatment performance in affected reactors. Our results demonstrate that disturbances of the sludge microbiome affect key structural and functional microbial groups, which lead to seasonal N2O emission patterns. To reduce N2O emissions from WWTP, it is therefore crucial to understand the drivers that lead to the microbial population dynamics in the activated sludge.