The insufficient supply of electron donor in surface water contaminated with nitrate leads to its incomplete reduction in natural or constructed wetlands. Although the addition of organic matter (represented as chemical oxygen demand, COD) can stimulate N removal by denitrification, direct supplementation of COD creates unacceptable risks to effluent quality. An alternative for stimulating denitrification is supplying hydrogen gas (H2) as an inorganic electron donor. We evaluate an innovative means to do H2-based denitrification of surface waters in a wetland setting: the in-situ membrane biofilm reactor (isMBfR), in which H2 is delivered to a biofilm of denitrifying bacteria on demand based on the presence of nitrate. We carried out a proof-of-concept study in which an upper “photo zone” and a lower “MBfR root zone” were combined to remove nitrate and COD from simulated surface water. Employing mass-balances for H2, COD, nitrate, and oxygen, we documented nearly complete removals of nitrate and COD, except when the H2 supply was intentionally shut off. All nitrate removal was accomplished in the “MBfR root zone,” where H2 delivery supplemented the COD supply (as needed) and provided the large majority of electron equivalents to reduce nitrate to N2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-241
Number of pages8
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 2017


  • Chemical oxygen demand
  • Hydrogen
  • Membrane biofilm reactor
  • Nitrate reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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