Performance Evaluation of Four Field-Scale Agricultural Drainage Denitrification Bioreactors in Iowa

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Christianson, Laura
Bhandari, Alok
Helmers, Matthew
Kult, Keegan
Sutphin, Todd
Wolf, Roger
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Recently, interest in denitrification bioreactors to reduce the amount of nitrate in agricultural drainage has led to increased installations across the U.S. Midwest. Despite this recent attention, there are few peer-reviewed, field-scale comparative performance studies investigating the effectiveness of these denitrification bioreactors. The object of this work was to analyze nitrate removal performance from four existing bioreactors in Iowa, paying particular attention to potential performance-affecting factors including retention time, influent nitrate concentration, temperature, flow rate, age, length-to-width ratio, and cross-sectional shape. Based on a minimum of two years of water quality data from each of the four bioreactors, annual removal rates ranged from 0.38 to 7.76 g N m-3 bioreactor volume d-1. Bioreactor and total (including bypass flow) nitrate-nitrogen load reductions ranged from 12% to 76% (mean 45%) and from 12% to 57% (mean 32%), respectively, removing from 0.5 to 15.5 kg N ha-1 drainage area. Multiple regression analyses showed that temperature and influent nitrate concentration were the most important factors affecting percent bioreactor nitrate load reduction and nitrate removal rate, respectively. This analysis also indicated that load reductions within the bioreactor were significantly impacted by retention time at three of the four reactors. More field-scale performance data from bioreactors of different designs and from multiple locations around the Midwest are necessary to further enhance understanding of nitrate removal in these systems and their potential to positively impact water quality.


This article is from Transactions of the ASABE 55, no. 6 (2012): 2163–2174.

Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2012