Shortcut nitrogen removal holds significant economic appeal for mainstream wastewater treatment. Nevertheless, it is too difficult to achieve the stable suppression of nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB), and simultaneously maintain the activity of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB). This study proposes to overcome this challenge by employing the novel acid-tolerant AOB, namely “Candidatus Nitrosoglobus”, in a membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR). Superior partial nitritation was demonstrated in low-strength wastewater from two aspects. First, the long-term operation (256 days) under the acidic pH range of 5.0 to 5.2 showed the successful NOB washout by the in situ free nitrous acid (FNA) of approximately 1 mg N/L. This was evidenced by the stable nitrite accumulation ratio (NAR) close to 100 % and the disappearance of NOB shown by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and fluorescence in situ hybridization. Second, oxygen was sufficiently supplied in the MABR, leading to an unprecedentedly high ammonia oxidation rate (AOR) at 2.4 ± 0.1 kg N/(m3 d) at a short hydraulic retention time (HRT) of a mere 30 min. Due to the counter diffusion of substrates, the present acidic MABR displayed a significantly higher apparent oxygen affinity (0.36 ± 0.03 mg O2/L), a marginally lower apparent ammonia affinity (14.9 ± 1.9 mg N/L), and a heightened sensitivity to FNA and pH variations, compared with counterparts determined by flocculant acid-tolerant AOB. Beyond supporting the potential application of shortcut nitrogen removal in mainstream wastewater, this study also offers the attractive prospect of intensifying wastewater treatment by markedly reducing the HRT of the aerobic unit.

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