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Biological Air Filters for

Groundwater treatment
• Groundwater is affected by anthropogenic activities that occur at the surface such as farming
• This is one of the largest contributors of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in groundwater through extensive use of
• Phosphorous
• Phosphorus is found in most life forms as it is essential in the formation of cells. It is also found
dissolved in groundwater due to erosion of phosphorous rocks over time. However, most of it is due to
the leaching of phosphorous fertilizers into the ground water
• Soils have a limited capacity to store Phosphorus, and when this capacity is exceeded, the phosphorus
is allowed to infiltrate freely in solution, recharging aquifers.
• Excess phosphorous in drinking water leads to kidney failure in humans
• Nitrogen
• Nitrogen or nitrogenous ions and compounds such as Ammonium (NH4+), Nitrates (NO3) and Nitrites
(NO2) are introduced to groundwater through fertilizers, animal manure and nitrogenous compounds
given off by industries (especially fish processing industries) and cars. Nitrogen can reside in ground
water for decades and facilitate the generation of ammonia, a gas with a distinct pungent smell
• Excess nitrogen in drinking water is known to cause an oxygen depletion, especially in children, leading
to a condition known as blue baby syndrome.
• Carbonaceous Matter
• The presence of dead plant and animal matter in significant quantities is unique to Groundwater
treatment. The presence of still waters make it a prime environment for generation of tastes and
odours which need to be removed in an economic and efficient way
Biological Aerated Filters Operation Principle
• A BAF typically consists of medium that treats carbonaceous, phosphorous and
nitrogenous matter using biomass fixed to the media and capturing the
suspended solids in the media. This has the distinct advantage of acting as a
filter for the suspended solids as well as an efficient treatment mechanism for
nutrients and dead matter in the water.
• Usually, BAFs employ an up-flow system. This means that the influent water is
introduced at the bottom by perforated pipes and flows in the same direction
with air introduced by blowers at the bottom. The air helps to oxidise volatile
gases present due to decomposing organic matter as well as ammonia. It also
ensures that there is no short-circuiting of the influent water.
• The system is flexible enough that it can create different zones of oxygen -
availability in the filter media. This is essential in the nitrification and de-
nitrification cycle for the removal of Nitrogen
• As in the conventional filtration system, there is periodic backwashing of the
Biological Aerated Filters Operation Principle
Cont …
• The filter media employed is a key operational component of the
filter. For the most efficient nitrogen and carbonaceous matter
removal, attachment of biofilms and maximum transfer of oxygen to
occur, the media should have the following qualities:
• Rough to promote strong attachment of the biofilm
• High resistance to attrition to avoid much replacement
• Small to facilitate a large surface for biofilm growth and entrapment of
suspended solids
• Chemically stable to resist corrosion
• Economic
• The filter media used the most is plastic, which above all, is affordable
and chemically stable
Typical section of a Biological Aerated Filter
Nitrogen Removal
• As stated before, Nitrogenous compounds pose a significant health
risk, especially to children. A concentration in treated water of
<50mg/l is accepted in dirking water, and nothing more
• Nitrogen removal is facilitated by 2 processes, Nitrification and
• This is an oxidation process facilitated by a diverse population of
bacteria attached to the filter media. It involves conversion of
Ammonium to Nitrites then finally Nitrates
• NH4+ + 1.5O2 = NO2 + H2O + 2H+ (facilitated by Nitrosomonas)
• NO2+ 0.5O2 = NO3 (Facilitated by Nitrobacter)
• As seen, a good supply of oxygen is required for this process to occur.
Therefore, it occurs mainly in the lower (oxic) zones of the up-flow co-
current system
• Denitrification is the procedural reduction of Nitrogen oxides to form
Nitrogen. Again, this process if facilitated by bacteria.
• However, it occurs in the absence of dissolved oxygen or in Dissolved
oxygen so limited that the bacteria use Nitrogen as the electron
acceptor instead of the oxygen. This process occurs in the anoxic
zones of the filter:
• NO3→NO2→N2
• The Nitrogen gas is free to escape into the atmosphere at the top of
the filter
Operational Parameters
• BAFs have been shown to efficiently treat organic matter
concentrations as high as 18kg/m3/day.
• Typical Hydraulic loading is 8-10m3/m 2/h
Operational advantages and disadvantages
Advantages Disadvantages
Efficient removal of nitrogen, phosphorus and organic Requires skilled labour to control and operate
More adept at handling shock loads Over time, problems develop with respect to the oxic
and anoxic zones
Less Retention time Considerable capital costs
Cheap maintenance costs