Denitrifying bioreactors enhance the natural process of denitrification in a practical way to treat nitrate-nitrogen (N) in a variety of N-laden water matrices. The design and construction of bioreactors for treatment of subsurface drainage in the U.S. is guided by USDA-NRCS Conservation Practice Standard 605. This review consolidates the state of the science for denitrifying bioreactors using case studies from across the globe with an emphasis on full-size bioreactor nitrate-N removal and cost-effectiveness. The focus is on bed-style bioreactors (including in-ditch modifications), although there is mention of denitrifying walls, which broaden the applicability of bioreactor technology in some areas. Subsurface drainage denitrifying bioreactors have been assessed as removing 20% to 40% of annual nitrate-N loss in the Midwest, and an evaluation across the peer-reviewed literature published over the past three years showed that bioreactors around the world have been generally consistent with that (N load reduction median: 46%; mean ±SD: 40% ±26%; n = 15). Reported N removal rates were on the order of 5.1 g N m-3 d-1 (median; mean ±SD: 7.2 ±9.6 g N m-3 d-1; n = 27). Subsurface drainage bioreactor installation costs have ranged from less than $5,000 to $27,000, with estimated cost efficiencies ranging from less than $2.50 kg-1 N year-1 to roughly $20 kg-1 N year-1 (although they can be as high as $48 kg-1 N year-1). A suggested monitoring setup is described primarily for the context of conservation practitioners and watershed groups for assessing annual nitrate-N load removal performance of subsurface drainage denitrifying bioreactors. Recommended minimum reporting measures for assessing and comparing annual N removal performance include: bioreactor dimensions and installation date; fill media size, porosity, and type; nitrate-N concentrations and water temperatures; bioreactor flow treatment details; basic drainage system and bioreactor design characteristics; and N removal rate and efficiency.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The first author gratefully acknowledges funding and support from USDA Hatch Project ILLU-802-925 and Project NR185A12XXXXC004 CESU under Great Rivers Umbrella Agreement 68-3A75-18-504 (USDA-NRCS). The third author was funded by the soybean checkoff through the Iowa Soybean Association.
© 2021 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. All rights reserved.
- Nonpoint-source pollution
- Subsurface drainage