Optimization of moving bed biofilm reactors for oil sands process-affected water treatment: The effect of HRT and ammonia concentrations

Yijing Shi, Chunkai Huang, Mohamed Gamal El-Din, Yang Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Two moving bed biofilm reactors (MBBRs) were optimized to improve the biodegradation of organic compounds in raw and ozonated OSPW by changing the hydraulic retention time (HRT) and the influent ammonia concentrations. During the five stages, the average COD removal reached 50.8 ± 3.4%, 52.8 ± 6.5%, 54.7 ± 4.3%, 56.3 ± 2.2%, and 58.0 ± 2.3% respectively in raw OSPW MBBR, and 54.6 ± 3.8%, 57.2 ± 7.1%, 55.5 ± 5.8%, 58.3 ± 2.2%, and 60.7 ± 2.3% respectively in ozonated OSPW MBBR. Welch's weighted ANOVA tests show that the increase in ammonia levels significantly improved the COD removal in the two systems, while the HRT was an important parameter for COD decrease in the raw OSPW MBBR. Compared to the HRT, the increase in ammonia concentrations were more beneficial for acid extractable fraction (AEF) degradation and the average AEF removal reached 29.80% (raw OSPW MBBR) and 16.50% (ozonated OSPW MBBR) by the end of the optimization (Stage V; HRT = 96 h, 60 mg/L NH4 +-N). > 98% of the NH4 +-N was removed in the two MBBR systems, showing good nitrification. Microtoxicity tests showed that no significant correlations were found between HRT/ammonia levels and the OSPW toxicity changes toward V. fischeri. Spearman's rank correlation analysis was applied for q-PCR data, showing that positive correlations between the removal efficiencies of AEF and NSR and NirK gene copies were observed in the raw OSPW MBBR system, while positive correlations between AEF removal efficiency and total bacteria gene, NSR, Nitro, and NirK gene copies were observed in the ozonated OSPW MBBR system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)690-696
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 15 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research team acknowledges financial support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Napier-Reid Ltd., Shell Canada, and the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative (HAI) through the Alberta Environment and Parks’ ecoTrust Program. Dr. Gamal El-Din acknowledges financial support from NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Oil Sands Tailings Water Treatment through the support by Syncrude Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc., Shell Canada, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Total E&P Canada Ltd., EPCOR Water Services, IOWC Technologies Inc., Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solution, and Alberta Environment and Parks.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Ammonia concentration
  • Hydraulic retention time (HRT)
  • Moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR)
  • Oil sands process-affected water (OSPW)
  • Optimization


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