Denitrification on internal carbon sources offers the advantage to control nitrate levels in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) by using the fecal carbon produced within the husbandry system. However, it is not clear to which extent fecal carbon can be utilized by the microbial community within a denitrification reactor. Especially fibers can hamper the bioavailability of carbon in fecal waste. Therefore, this study investigated the nitrogen removal capacity of a denitrification reactor using fecal waste with a high fiber content as the only carbon source in RAS. Furthermore, we investigated to which extent fibers were utilized as a carbon source within the reactor. Four identical small-scale RAS (V = 460 L) were stocked with 25 rainbow trout of ~ 110 g, and operated at a water exchange rate of ~ 200 L/kg of feed DM. Two RAS served as controls without denitrification and two RAS were upgraded with an upflow sludge blanket denitrification reactor (V = 10.5 L). During the six weeks of experiment, we determined COD (chemical oxygen demand, measure for organic carbon) and N balances for all systems and analyzed the composition of the collected solids. The denitrification reactors were able to remove 19 g N/kg of feed DM, or 48% of the metabolic nitrogen waste produced by the fish. Based on the COD balances, 44% of the supplied fecal COD was degraded in the reactor. Hemicellulose and cellulose degradability was ~ 50%, accounting for 45% to the total degraded COD. Under steady state conditions, 4.4 g of biodegradable COD needed to be oxidized to reduce 1 g of nitrogen, indicating respiratory COD losses of approximately 50%. This experiment successfully demonstrated that denitrification on internal carbon sources using a high fiber diet could remove half of the nitrogen waste produced by the fish. Although fibers limited carbon bioavailability, half of the cellulose and hemicellulose present in the fecal waste was utilized in the denitrification reactor.
- recirculating aquaculture systems
- single-sludge denitrification
- acid-insoluble ash
- nitrate removal