Aquaculture International

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 1485–1501 | Cite as

Development of denitrification in semi-automated moving bed biofilm reactors operated in a marine recirculating aquaculture system

  • Orestis Stavrakidis-Zachou
  • Anneliese ErnstEmail author
  • Christian Steinbach
  • Kai Wagner
  • Uwe Waller


This study examined the performance of three independently operated denitrifying moving bed biofilm reactors (MBBRs) in a zero-exchange marine recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) stocked with European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax). A semi-automated control strategy was applied to foster spontaneous denitrification. Process automation consisted of a pulsed carbon supply and an inflow of nitrate-rich, aerated process water controlled by the oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) in the MBBR. Carbon dosing frequency was adjusted manually if the process produced unwanted products (i.e., nitrite or ammonia). OPR-controlled inflow stimulated bacterial activities in the MBBRs until inflow reached the pre-set maximum at a hydraulic retention time (HRT) of 0.75 h. This allowed for a quick start-up of the denitrification processes in spite of high initial variability of process water inflow and of nitrate removal efficiency (NRE). A start-up with glycerol did not induce a stable denitrification process; however, after the process had been established with acetate, glycerol promoted efficient denitrification with NRE close to one. The successive application of the two carbon sources resulted in a high nitrate removal rate (NRR) of 2 kg nitrate-N m−3 day−1 in the biofilters. This diminished the concentration of nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate-N) in the RAS (volume 9 m3) from 176 to 36 g m−3 in 42 days with biofilters comprising only 1% of the RAS volume. The implications for the development of an automated denitrification process are discussed.


Denitrification MBBR Moving bed biofilm reactor Nitrate removal ORP control RAS Recirculating aquaculture system 



Hydraulic retention time


Moving bed biofilm reactor


Oxidation-reduction potential


Nitrate removal rate


Nitrate removal efficiency


Recirculating aquaculture system


Total ammonia-N


Funding information

This study was a part of the project “Modellbasierte innovative Regelungsstrategien für biologische Prozesse der Lebensmittelindustrie (MARE)” funded by the BMBF-Support program for young engineers 2013 (AZ: 13FH004I3) and the project "Microbial Stabilization Technologies (MicStaTech)" funded by the COFASP ERA-NET partners, who received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development, and demonstration under grant agreement no. 321553. O.S.-Z. was supported by an ERASMUS grant to pursue his master degree at the htw saar.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The authors have an official permit to raise fish. This article does not contain any experiments with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and AquacultureHellenic Center for Marine Research, AquaLabsHeraklionGreece
  2. 2.Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft des Saarlandes (htw saar)SaarbückenGermany

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