Biofiltration is a pollution control technique using living material to capture and biologically degrade process pollutants. Common uses include processing waste water, capturing harmful chemicals or silt from surface runoff, and microbiotic oxidation of contaminants in air.
Examples of biofiltration include;
* Bioswales, Biostrips, Biobags, Bioscrubbers, and Trickling filters
* Constructed wetlands and Natural wetlands
* Slow sand filters
* Treatment ponds
* Green belts
* Living walls
* Riparian zones, Riparian forests, Bosques
Control of air pollution
When applied to air filtration and purification, biofilters use microorganisms to remove air pollution. The air flows through a packed bed and the pollutant transfers into a thin biofilm on the surface of the packing material. Microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi are immobilized in the biofilm and degrade the pollutant. Trickling filters and bioscrubbers rely on a biofilm and the bacterial action in their recirculating waters.
The technology finds greatest application in treating malodorous compounds and water-soluble volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Industries employing the technology include food and animal products, off-gas from wastewater treatment facilities, pharmaceuticals, wood products manufacturing, paint and coatings application and manufacturing and resin manufacturing and application, etc. Compounds treated are typically mixed VOCs and various sulfur compounds, including hydrogen sulfide. Very large airflows may be treated and although a large area (footprint) has typically been required -- a large biofilter (>200,000 acfm) may occupy as much or more land than a football field -- this has been one of the principal drawbacks of the technology. Engineered biofilters, designed and built since the early 1990s, have provided significant footprint reductions over the conventional flat-bed, organic media type.
One of the main challenges to optimum biofilter operation is maintaining proper moisture throughout the system. The air is normally humidified before it enters the bed with a watering (spray) system, humidification chamber, bioscrubber, or biotrickling filter. Properly maintained, a natural, organic packing media like peat, vegetable mulch, bark or wood chips may last for several years but engineered, combined natural organic and synthetic component packing materials will generally last much longer, up to 10 years. A number of companies offer these types or proprietary packing materials and multi-year guarantees, not usually provided with a conventional compost or wood chip bed biofilter.
Although widely employed, the scientific community is still unsure of the physical phenomena underpinning biofilter operation, and information about the microorganisms involved continues to be developed. A biofilter/bio-oxidation system is a fairly simple device to construct and operate and offers a cost-effective solution provided the pollutant is biodegradable within a moderate time frame (increasing residence time = increased size and capital costs), at reasonable concentrations (and lb/hr loading rates) and that the airstream is at an organism-viable temperature. For large volumes of air, a biofilter may be the only cost-effective solution. There is no secondary pollution (unlike the case of incineration where additional CO2 and NOx are produced from burning fuels) and degradation products form additional biomass, carbon dioxide and water. Media irrigation water, although many systems recycle part of it to reduce operating costs, has a moderately high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and may require treatment before disposal. However, this "blowdown water", necessary for proper maintenance of any bio-oxidation system, is generally accepted by municipal POTWs without any pretreatment.
Biofilters are being utilized in Columbia Falls, Montana at Plum Creek Timber Company's fiberboard plant. The biofilters decrease the pollution emitted by the manufacturing process and the exhaust emitted is 98% clean. The newest, and largest, biofilter addition to Plum Creek cost $9.5 million, yet even though this new technology is expensive, in the long run it will cost less overtime than the alternative exhaust-cleaning incinerators fueled by natural gas (which are not as environmentally friendly). The biofilters use trillions of microscopic bacteria that cleanse the air being released from the plant.
Trickling filters have been used to filter water for various end uses for almost two centuries. Biological treatment has been used in Europe to filter surface water for drinking purposes since the early 1900s and is now receiving more interest worldwide. Biological treatment methods are also common in wastewater treatment, aquaculture and greywater recycling as a way to minimize water replacement while increasing water quality.
For drinking water, biological water treatment involves the use of naturally occurring micro-organisms in the surface water to improve water quality. Under optimum conditions, including relatively low turbidity and high oxygen content, the organisms break down material in the water and thus improve water quality. Slow sand filters or carbon filters are used to provide a place on which these micro-organisms grow. These biological treatment systems effectively reduce water-borne diseases, dissolved organic carbon, turbidity and colour in surface water, improving overall water quality.
Use in aquaculture
The use of biofilters are commonly used on closed aquaculture systems, such as recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). Many designs are used, with different benefits and drawbacks, however the function is the same: reducing water exchanges by converting ammonia to nitrate. Ammonia (NH4+ and NH3) originates from the brachial excretion from the gills of aquatic animals and from the decomposition of organic matter. As ammonia-N is highly toxic, this is converted to a less toxic form of nitrite (by Nitrosomonas sp.) and then to an even less toxic form of nitrate (by Nitrobacter sp.). This "nitrification" process requires oxygen (aerobic conditions), without which the biofilter can crash. Furthermore, as this nitrification cycle produces H+, the pH can decrease which necessitates the use of buffers such as lime.