Ammonium removal from groundwater using a zeolite permeable reactive barrier: a pilot-scale demonstration

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In situ remediation of ammonium-contaminated groundwater is possible through a zeolite permeable reactive barrier (PRB); however, zeolite's finite sorption capacity limits the long-term field application of PRBs. In this paper, a pilot-scale PRB was designed to achieve sustainable use of zeolite in removing ammonium (NH4+-N) through sequential nitrification, adsorption, and denitrification. An oxygen-releasing compound was added to ensure aerobic conditions in the upper layers of the PRB where NH4+-N was microbially oxidized to nitrate. Any remaining NH4+-N was removed abiotically in the zeolite layer. Under lower redox conditions, nitrate formed during nitrification was removed by denitrifying bacteria colonizing the zeolite. During the long-term operation (328 days), more than 90% of NH4+-N was consistently removed, and approximately 40% of the influent NH4+-N was oxidized to nitrate. As much as 60% of the nitrate formed in the PRB was reduced in the zeolite layer after 300 days of operation. Removal of NH4+-N from groundwater using a zeolite PRB through bacterial nitrification and abiotic adsorption is a promising approach. The zeolite PRB has the advantage of achieving sustainable use of zeolite and immediate NH4+-N removal.

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