N2-fixation can sustain wastewater treatment performance of photogranules under nitrogen-limiting conditions

Trebuch, Lukas M.; Schoofs, Kobe; Vaessen, Stijn M.F.; Neu, Thomas R.; Janssen, Marcel; Wijffels, René H.; Vet, Louise E.M.; Fernandes, Tânia V.


Wastewater characteristics can vary significantly, and in some municipal wastewaters the N:P ratio is as low as 5 resulting in nitrogen-limiting conditions. In this study, the microbial community, function, and morphology of photogranules under nitrogen-replete (N+) and limiting (N−) conditions was assessed in sequencing batch reactors. Photogranules under N− condition were nitrogen deprived 2/3 of a batch cycle duration. Surprisingly, this nitrogen limitation had no adverse effect on biomass productivity. Moreover, phosphorus and chemical oxygen demand removal were similar to their removal under N+ conditions. Although performance was similar, the difference in granule morphology was obvious. While N+ photogranules were dense and structurally confined, N− photogranules showed loose structures with occasional voids. Microbial community analysis revealed high abundance of cyanobacteria capable of N2-fixation. These were higher at N− (38%) than N+ (29%) treatments, showing that photogranules could adjust and maintain treatment performance and high biomass productivity by means of N2-fixation.