This paper investigates denitrification of brines originating from membrane treatment of groundwater in an upflow sludge blanket (USB) reactor, a biofilm reactor without carrier. A simulated brine wastewater was prepared from tap water and contained a nitrate concentration of 125 mg/l as N and a total salt concentration of about 1%. In order to select for a suitable energy source for denitrification, two electron donors were compared: one promoting precipitation of calcium compounds (ethanol), while the other (acetic acid), no precipitation was expected. After extended operation to reach steady state, the sludge from the two reactors showed very different mineral contents. The VSS/TSS ratio in the ethanol fed reactor was 0.2, i.e., 80% mineral content, while the VSS/TSS ratio in the acetic acid fed reactor was 0.9, i.e., 10% mineral content. In spite of the low mineral content, the sludge from the acetic acid fed reactor showed remarkably excellent granulation and settling characteristics. Although the denitrification performance of the acetic acid fed reactor was similar to that of the ethanol fed reactor, there was a huge difference in the sludge production due to mineral precipitation, with the corresponding negative aspects including increased costs of sludge treatment and disposal and moreover, instability and difficulties in reactor operation (channeling). These arguments make acetic acid a much more suitable candidate for brine denitrification, despite previous findings observed in groundwater denitrification regarding the essential role of a relatively high sludge mineral fraction for stable and effective USB reactor operation. Based on a comparison between two denitrification reactors with and without salt addition and using acetic acid as the electron donor, it was concluded that the reason for the excellent sludge settling characteristics found in the acetic acid fed reactor is the positive effects of higher salinity on granular sludge formation.
Keywords: brine, denitrification, granular sludge, settling characteristics, USB reactor