A review on nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions during biological nutrient removal from municipal wastewater and sludge reject water

Theoni Maria Massara, Simos Malamis, Albert Guisasola, Juan Antonio Baeza, Constantinos Noutsopoulos, Evina Katsou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

111 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 Elsevier B.V. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important pollutant which is emitted during the biological nutrient removal (BNR) processes of wastewater treatment. Since it has a greenhouse effect which is 265 times higher than carbon dioxide, even relatively small amounts can result in a significant carbon footprint. Biological nitrogen (N) removal conventionally occurs with nitrification/denitrification, yet also through advanced processes such as nitritation/denitritation and completely autotrophic N-removal. The microbial pathways leading to the N2O emission include hydroxylamine oxidation and nitrifier denitrification, both activated by ammonia oxidizing bacteria, and heterotrophic denitrification. In this work, a critical review of the existing literature on N2O emissions during BNR is presented focusing on the most contributing parameters. Various factors increasing the N2O emissions either per se or combined are identified: low dissolved oxygen, high nitrite accumulation, low chemical oxygen demand to nitrogen ratio, slow growth of denitrifying bacteria, uncontrolled pH and temperature. However, there is no common pattern in reporting the N2O generation amongst the cited studies, a fact that complicates its evaluation. When simulating N2O emissions, all microbial pathways along with the potential contribution of abiotic N2O production during wastewater treatment at different dissolved oxygen/nitrite levels should be considered. The undeniable validation of the robustness of such models calls for reliable quantification techniques which simultaneously describe dissolved and gaseous N2O dynamics. Thus, the choice of the N-removal process, the optimal selection of operational parameters and the establishment of validated dynamic models combining multiple N2O pathways are essential for studying the emissions mitigation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-123
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2017


  • Anammox
  • BNR
  • Modeling
  • N O emission 2
  • Nitrifier denitrification
  • Nitritation/denitritation

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