Nitrogen is a pollutant of great concern when present in excess in surface waters. Living wall biofiltration systems that employ ornamentals and climbing plants are an emerging green technology that has recently demonstrated significant potential to reduce nitrogen concentrations from greywater before outdoor domestic re-use. However, there still exists a paucity of knowledge around the mechanisms governing this removal, particularly in regards to the fate of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) within these systems. Understanding the fate of nitrogen in living wall treatment systems is imperative both to optimise designs and to predict the long-term viability of these systems, more so given the growing interest in adopting green infrastructure within urban cities. A laboratory study was undertaken to investigate the transformation and fate of nitrogen in biofilters planted with different climbing plants and ornamental species. An isotropic tracer (15
N-urea) was applied to quantify the amount removed through coupled nitrification-denitrification. The results found that nitrification-denitrification formed a minor removal pathway in planted systems, comprising only 0–15% of added 15
N. DON and ammonium were effectively reduced by all biofilter designs, indicating effective mineralisation and nitrification rates. However, in designs with poor nitrogen removal, the effluent was enriched with nitrate, suggesting limited denitrification rates. Given the likely dominance of plant assimilation in removal, this indicates that plant selection is a critical design parameter, as is maintaining healthy plant growth for optimal nitrogen removal in greywater living wall biofilters in their early years of operation.
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