Decentralized wastewater treatment in an urban setting: a pilot study of the circulating fluidized bed bioreactor treating septic tank effluent

Anqi Liu, Michael J. Nelson, Xiaobo Wang, Haibin Li, Xiaoqin He, Zengli Zhao, Huiqiong Zhong, George Nakhla, Jesse Zhu

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


To meet the increasing wastewater treatment demand while minimizing the land footprint of the treatment systems and plants, more efficient and compact processes are needed. The circulating fluidized bed bioreactor (CFBBR) has been proven to achieve high levels of biological nutrient removal. Past studies at the lab and pilot scale achieved 94% COD removal and 80% nitrogen removal at HRT's of 2–4 h. A collaborative project between Western University and the Guangzhou Institute of Energy Conversion (GIEC), in Guangzhou, China, further explored the treatment of municipal wastewater with the CFBBR. A pilot CFBBR, with aerobic and anoxic columns for nitrification and denitrification, was constructed at the GIEC for in-situ treatment of septic tank effluent from a residential building. Due to high concentrations of ammonia (NH4-N), the wastewater had a COD/N ratio of 2–3. Thus, operating at a longer HRT and supplementing COD, in the form of glucose, was necessary to achieve a high nitrogen removal efficiency. The system was run both with and without supplemental COD at HRT's between 16 and 21 h, treating approximately 1000–1270 L/d. Overall, a COD removal efficiency of at least 92%, ammonia removal of 97%, and nitrogen removal of 82% was achieved. The CFBBR system achieved an effluent with BOD and NH4-N concentrations both below 5 mg/L, a NO3-N concentration below 15 mg/L, and a total nitrogen concentration below 25 mg/L. The compact design of this pilot-CFBBR, coupled with its high BNR performance make it an excellent option for decentralized treatment of urban wastewaters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1911-1921
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Technology (United Kingdom)
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • attached growth process
  • Biological nutrient removal
  • decentralized treatment
  • high-efficiency process
  • in-situ treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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