Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » Leetown, West Virginia » Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #349928

Research Project: Developing and Refining Technologies for Sustainable Fish Growth in Closed Containment Systems

Location: Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture Research

Title: Membrane biological reactors to remove nitrate, digest biosolids, and eliminate water flushing requirements within replicated recirculation systems culturing rainbow trout

item SUMMERFELT, STEVEN - Freshwater Institute
item DAVIDSON, JOHN - Freshwater Institute
item Schrader, Kevin
item LEPINE, CHRISTINE - Freshwater Institute
item TSUKUDA, SCOTT - Freshwater Institute
item GOOD, CHRISTOPHER - Freshwater Institute

Submitted to: Aquaculture America
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/28/2017
Publication Date: 2/18/2018
Citation: Summerfelt, S., Davidson, J., Schrader, K., Lepine, C., Tsukuda, S., Good, C. 2018. Membrane biological reactors to remove nitrate, digest biosolids, and eliminate water flushing requirements within replicated recirculation systems culturing rainbow trout [abstract]. Aquaculture America. P472.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Nutrients, particularly nitrate (NO3), can accumulate to very high levels within low exchange recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) and negatively impact a number of cultured species. To prevent the harmful effects of nitrate accumulation and to dispose of concentrated waste biosolids, many RAS are operated with makeup water as high as 0.5-5% of the total recirculating flow. This means that a fish farm capable of producing 1,000 mt/yr requires a minimum of 800 m3 of daily makeup water even with relatively low water usage; most such farms would operate with at least twice this makeup flow. While RAS designs use much less water than typical flow-through fish farms, these water requirements and the associated water withdrawal and point-source discharge permits can still limit RAS technology implementation. Membrane biological reactors (MBRs) are a promising and scalable technology that could allow complete closure of the RAS, decreasing both the water withdrawal and point-source discharge requirements. MBRs have been widely used to remove most of the nutrients, solids, and organics from municipal, industrial, and agricultural wastewaters. Using a series of membranes plumbed in parallel, an MBR operates with both anoxic and aerobic stages within an activated sludge so that complete nitrification and denitrification can occur. In previous research, we found this technology effective at removing solids and nutrients from RAS effluent while aerobically stabilizing the system waste into non-malodorous biosolids suitable for composting or land application as a nutrient-rich soil amendment. The MBR removed nearly all of the nitrogen (less than 3 mg/L), phosphorus (less than 0.1 mg/L), biochemical oxygen demand (less than 1 mg/L), suspended solids (less than 1 mg/L), and heavy metals from RAS wastewater. Given these low nutrient levels, it follows that the MBR's permeate is likely well-suited for reuse in a fish culture system. Because the bacterial biomass in biosolids accumulates during MBR treatment, some of this biomass must be removed periodically in a process termed “biosolids wasting.” As a result of the requirement to remove these biosolids, we estimate that MBR's could allow for a nearly 10-fold reduction in water flushing requirement over the already tight water recirculation loops in many RAS. In the present study, six replicated RAS are being used to determine if an MBR can be integrated within a RAS to control nitrate accumulations at levels less than 100 mg/L, while simultaneously treating all of the biosolids backwashed or flushed from the primary solids capture processes in the system. This research will also determine if these MBR-containing RAS that operate with almost no makeup water flushing can sustain salmonid growth, welfare, and product quality.