PROJECTS: VOC & Odour Treatment  

DEVELOPMENT OF BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS FOR THE AEROBIC REMOVAL OF N2O Principal Investigators: Raúl Muñoz & Raquel Lebrero Researcher: Laura Salamanques N2O emissions represent nowadays a significant fraction of the total Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in the European Union with a yearly atmospheric concentration increase of 0.3% (Fig. 1). N2O is not only one of the main GHGs (its global warming potential is 298 times higher than that of CO2), but it is also one of the major causes of ozone depletion. N2O is mainly emitted from waste treatment activities (10 million tons of CO2-eq), nitric and adipic acid production (27 million tons of CO2-eq) and livestock farming (21 million tones CO2-eq). Therefore, the minimization and abatement of N2O emissions is mandatory due to their high environmental impact and the enforcement of stricter environmental regulations. Figure 1. Molecular structure of nitrous oxide (N2O).

Figure 1. Global atmospheric concentrations of N2O over geological time and in recent years (

Conventional NOx technologies such as selective catalytic reduction or selective non-catalytic reduction present prohibitive operating costs and large environmental impacts. In this context, biotechnologies (biofilters, biotrickling filters, bioscrubbers) can become, if properly tailored, a low-cost and environmentally friendly alternative to physical/chemical methods for the abatement of N2O. Biotechnologies, which are based on the biocatalytic action of specialized bacteria, microalgae or fungi, have been consistently proven as robust and efficient abatement methods for the treatment of industrial volatile organic compounds (VOCs), exhibiting lower operating costs and environmental impacts than their Page 1 of 3

PROJECTS: VOC & Odour Treatment  

physical/chemical counterparts (Estrada et al., 2011). However, the application of biological technologies for N2O removal is still scarce. The biodegradation process is mainly limited by the poor mass transfer of N2O from the gas to the aqueous phase containing the microorganisms (due to the low N2O solubility). There is also a lack of knowledge on the biodegradation process of N2O under aerobic conditions and on the biodegradation kinetics at the trace level pollutant concentrations typically present in the aqueous phase (µg/L). This project aims at developing and evaluating different advanced biotechnologies based on a direct N2O transfer gas-microorganisms (in contrast with the classical gas-water-cell transport pathway), capable of overcoming mass transfer limitations, optimizing the aerobic denitrification process by selection and characterization of hydrophobic microbial communities with high affinity for N2O. More specifically, the work will be focused on the design, start-up, operation and optimization of the operating conditions of different bioreactor configurations for N2O treatment: 1. Gas-phase membrane bioreactors combine the selective extraction of the target gaseous pollutants and O2 from the contaminated air emission with their biodegradation by a microbial community attached on the other side of the membrane in contact with a discrete aqueous phase containing the nutrients required for microbial growth. The hydrophobic membrane acts as an interphase between the air emission and the microbial community, increasing the local concentration gradients and therefore the overall mass transfer rates. Figure 2. Laboratory scale pilot plant

2. Two-phase partitioning bioreactors are characterized by the addition of an immiscible, non-volatile organic phase with a high affinity for the target gaseous pollutant, offering a new and more efficient pathway for N2O transport. 3. Fungal biofilters support both a high Kla and mass transport driving force as a result of the large surface area of the fungal aerial mycelia and their high hydrophobicity (one order of magnitude larger than that of bacteria and higher at low moisture contents). In addition, this project is expected to provide new insights on the kinetics of N2O biodegradation at trace level concentrations.

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PROJECTS: VOC & Odour Treatment  

More information available at:

Relevant publications López JC, Quijano G, Souza TSO, Estrada JM, Lebrero R, Muñoz R (in press) Biotechnologies for greenhouse gases (CH4, N2O, CO2) abatement: state-of-the-art and challenges. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology. Estrada, J., Kraakman, B., Muñoz, R., Lebrero, R., 2011. A comparative analysis of odour treatment technologies in wastewater treatment plants. Environmental Science and Technology 45, 1100-1106.

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one of the main GHGs (its global warming potential is 298 times higher than that of CO2), but it is also one of the major causes of ... overall mass transfer rates. 2.

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