Enhanced Nitrogen and Carbon Removal in Natural Seawater by Electrochemical Enrichment in a Bioelectrochemical Reactor

TitleEnhanced Nitrogen and Carbon Removal in Natural Seawater by Electrochemical Enrichment in a Bioelectrochemical Reactor

             Ignacio T. Vargas, María José De La Fuente, Rodrigo De la Iglesia, Laura Farias, Benjamin Glasner, Felipe Torres-Rojas, Diana Muñoz, Holger Daims, Michael Lukumbuzya

Line(s) Recursos Críticos
Year of Publication 2022
Journal Title

             Journal of Environmental Management


              Industrial wastewater, cost efficiency, electrode material, natural seawater, total organic carbon, microorganisms, dissolved inorganic nitrogen


Municipal and industrial wastewater discharges in coastal and marine environments are of major concern due to their high carbon and nitrogen loads and the resulted phenomenon of eutrophication. Bioelectrochemical reactors (BERs) for simultaneous nitrogen and carbon removal have gained attention owing to their cost efficiency and versatility, as well as the possibility of electrochemical enrich specific groups. This study presented a scalable two-chamber BERs using graphite granules as electrode material. BERs were inoculated and operated for 37 days using natural seawater with high concentrations of ammonium and acetate. The BERs demonstrated a maximum current density of 0.9 A m−3 and removal rates of 7.5 mg NH4+-N L−1 d−1 and 99.5 mg L−1 d−1 for total organic carbon (TOC). Removals observed for NH4+-N and TOC were 96.2% and 68.7%, respectively. The results of nutrient removal (i.e., ammonium, nitrate, nitrite and TOC) and microbial characterization (i.e., next-generation sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene and fluorescence in situ hybridization) showed that BERs operated with a poised cathode at −260 mV (vs. Ag/AgCl) significantly enriched nitrifying microorganisms in the anode and denitrifying microorganisms and planctomycetes in the cathode. Interestingly, the electrochemical enrichment did not increase the total number of microorganisms in the formed biofilms but controlled their composition. Thus, this work shows the first successful attempt to electrochemically enrich marine nitrifying and denitrifying microorganisms and presents a technique to accelerate the start-up process of BERs to remove dissolved inorganic nitrogen and total organic carbon from seawater.

Corresponding Author Ignacio Vargas: itvargas@ing.puc.cl