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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Special Section: Moving Denitrifying Bioreactors Beyond Proof of Concept

Moving Denitrifying Bioreactors beyond Proof of Concept: Introduction to the Special Section


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 45 No. 3, p. 757-761
    unlockOPEN ACCESS
    Received: Jan 13, 2016
    Accepted: Mar 10, 2016
    Published: April 25, 2016

    * Corresponding author(s): LEChris@illinois.edu
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  1. Laura E. Christianson *a and
  2. Louis A. Schipperb
  1. a Dep. of Crop Sciences, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, S322 Turner Hall, MC-046, 1102 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801 USA
    b Environmental Research Institute, Univ. of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, 3240 New Zealand
Core Ideas:
  • Research on denitrifying bioreactors has accelerated within the past 10 years.
  • Bioreactors are a demonstrated option for nitrate mitigation in appropriate contexts.
  • Bioreactors have now moved beyond the proof of concept.
  • Future research must think beyond the bioreactor “black box.”


Denitrifying bioreactors are organic carbon-filled excavations designed to enhance the natural process of denitrification for the simple, passive treatment of nitrate-nitrogen. Research on and installation of these bioreactors has accelerated within the past 10 years, particularly in watersheds concerned about high nonpoint-source nitrate loads and also for tertiary wastewater treatment. This special section, inspired by the meeting of the Managing Denitrification in Agronomic Systems Community at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, aims to firmly establish that denitrifying bioreactors for treatment of nitrate in drainage waters, groundwater, and some wastewaters have moved beyond the proof of concept. This collection of 14 papers expands the peer-reviewed literature of denitrifying bioreactors into new locations, applications, and environmental conditions. There is momentum behind the pairing of wood-based bioreactors with other media (biochar, corn cobs) and in novel designs (e.g., use within treatment trains or use of baffles) to broaden applicability into new kinds of waters and pollutants and to improve performance under challenging field conditions such as cool early season agricultural drainage. Concerns about negative bioreactor by-products (nitrous oxide and hydrogen sulfide emissions, start-up nutrient flushing) are ongoing, but this translates into a significant research opportunity to develop more advanced designs and to fine tune management strategies. Future research must think more broadly to address bioreactor impacts on holistic watershed health and greenhouse gas balances and to facilitate collaborations that allow investigation of mechanisms within the bioreactor “black box.”

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Copyright © 2016. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.