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

Performance of Agricultural Residue Media in Laboratory Denitrifying Bioreactors at Low Temperatures


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 45 No. 3, p. 779-787
    Received: July 31, 2015
    Accepted: Nov 25, 2015
    Published: March 11, 2016

    * Corresponding author(s): gary.feyereisen@ars.usda.gov
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  1. Gary W. Feyereisen *a,
  2. Thomas B. Moormanb,
  3. Laura E. Christiansonc,
  4. Rodney T. Ventereaa,
  5. Jeffrey A. Coulterd and
  6. Ulrike W. Tschirnere
  1. a USDA–ARS Soil and Water Management Research Unit, 439 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108
    b USDA–ARS Natl. Lab. for Agriculture and the Environment, 1015 N University Blvd, Ames, IA 50011
    c Univ. of Illinois, Dep. of Crop Sciences, 1102 S Goodwin Ave, Urbana, IL 61801
    d Univ. of Minnesota, Dep. of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, 411 Bourlag Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108
    e Univ. of Minnesota, Dep. of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, 2004 Folwell Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108
Core Ideas:
  • A compartment of corn cobs before wood chips increases N removal and reduces C loss.
  • Microbial denitrifier populations for crop residues were higher than for wood chips.
  • Denitrification was limited by C availability at 1.5°C.
  • Nitrate-N removal does not necessarily correlate to N2O production.
  • N2O production per nitrate-N removed was nearly 4× at 1.5 compared with 15.5°C.


Denitrifying bioreactors can be effective for removing nitrate from agricultural tile drainage; however, questions about cold springtime performance persist. The objective of this study was to improve the nitrate removal rate (NRR) of denitrifying bioreactors at warm and cold temperatures using agriculturally derived media rather than wood chips (WC). Corn (Zea mays L.) cobs (CC), corn stover (CS), barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) straw (BS), WC, and CC followed by a compartment of WC (CC+WC) were tested in laboratory columns for 5 mo at a 12-h hydraulic residence time in separate experiments at 15.5 and 1.5°C. Nitrate-N removal rates ranged from 35 to 1.4 at 15.5°C and from 7.4 to 1.6 g N m−3 d−1 at 1.5°C, respectively; NRRs were ranked CC > CC+WC > BS = CS > WC and CC ≥ CC+WC = CS ≥ BS > WC for 15.5 and 1.5°C, respectively. Although NRRs for CC were increased relative to WC, CC released greater amounts of carbon. Greater abundance of nitrous oxide (N2O) reductase gene (nosZ) was supported by crop residues than WC at 15.5°C, and CS and BS supported greater abundance than WC at 1.5°C. Production of N2O relative to nitrate removal (rN2O) was consistently greater at 1.5°C (7.5% of nitrate removed) than at 15.5°C (1.9%). The rN2O was lowest in CC (1.1%) and CC-WC (0.9%) and greatest in WC (9.7%). Using a compartment of agricultural residue media in series before wood chips has the potential to improve denitrifying bioreactor nitrate removal rates, but field-scale verification is needed.

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