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A laboratory-scale experiment is conducted to remove nitrogen from nitrogen-rich wastewater using a down-flow hanging sponge (DHS) reactor. Effluent from an anaerobic-aerobic system for treating synthetic natural rubber wastewater, which still contains high levels of ammonia, was used as nitrogen-rich wastewater. Experimental period was divided into four phases based whether a carbon source was fed to the DHS reactor. The highest nitrogen removal efficiency (59.5 ± 5.4%) was achieved during phase 4, when a sodium acetate solution was fed into bottom section of the DHS reactor. In the DHS reactor, the nitrification occurred in the upper and middle sections. Then, after adding the sodium acetate solution, denitrification occurred. The final chemical oxygen demand, ammonia, and total inorganic nitrogen concentrations in the DHS reactor effluent were 37 ± 24 mg/L, 34 ± 5 mgN/L, and 42 ± 8 mgN/L, respectively. These concentrations were sufficient to meet the effluent standards of the Vietnamese natural rubber industry, which are the strictest in South-East Asia. The dominant bacteria in the sludge retained by the reactor's sponge media were the nitrifying bacteria Nitrosovibrio (0.2%) and Nitrospira (0.2-0.3%), the denitrifying bacteria Hylemonella (1.0-13.7%), Pseudoxanthomonas (1.2-2.1%), and Amaricoccus (2.4-3.5%), and the anammox bacterium Candidatus Brocadia (0.1-0.2%). Significant amounts of the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Xanthobacter (11.2-14.8%) and the rubber-degrading bacterium Gordonia (11.0-28.6%) were also found in the DHS reactor. These bacteria were thus considered to be the key microbes for nitrogen removal in a DHS reactor fed with a carbon source for denitrification.
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