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journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/watres

Review

Development of constructed wetlands


in performance intensifications for wastewater
treatment: A nitrogen and organic matter targeted
review
Shubiao Wu a,*, Peter Kuschk b, Hans Brix c, Jan Vymazal d, Renjie Dong a
a
College of Engineering, China Agricultural University, Qinghua Donglu 17, Haidian District, 100083 Beijing,
PR China
b
Department of Environmental Biotechnology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research e UFZ,
Permoserstrasse 15, Leipzig D-04318, Germany
c
Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Ole Worms Alle 1, 8000 Aarhus C., Denmark
d
Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Kymycka 129, 165 21 Praha 6,
Czech Republic

article info

abstract

Article history:

The knowledge on the performance enhancement of nitrogen and organic matter in the

Received 23 December 2013

expanded constructed wetlands (CWs) with various new designs, configurations, and

Received in revised form

technology combinations are still not sufficiently summarized. A comprehensive review is

19 February 2014

accordingly necessary for better understanding of this state-of-the-art-technology for op-

Accepted 9 March 2014

timum design and new ideas. Considering that the prevailing redox conditions in CWs

Available online 19 March 2014

have a strong effect on removal mechanisms and highly depend on wetland designs and
operations, this paper reviews different operation strategies (recirculation, aeration, tidal

Keywords:

operation, flow direction reciprocation, and earthworm integration), innovative designs,

Constructed wetlands

and configurations (circular-flow corridor wetlands, towery hybrid CWs, baffled subsurface

Wastewater treatment

CWs) for the intensifications of the performance. Some new combinations of CWs with

Performance enhancement

technologies in other field for wastewater treatment, such as microbial fuel cell, are also

Operation strategy

discussed. To improve biofilm development, the selection and utilization of some specific
substrates are summarized. Finally, we review the advances in electron donor supply to
enhance low C/N wastewater treatment and in thermal insulation against low temperature
to maintain CWs running in the cold areas. This paper aims to provide and inspire some
new ideas in the development of intensified CWs mainly for the removal of nitrogen and
organic matter. The stability and sustainability of these technologies should be further
qualified.
2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: 86 10 62737852; fax: 86 10 62736067.


E-mail addresses: wsb4660017@126.com, wushubiao@gmail.com (S. Wu).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2014.03.020
0043-1354/ 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

41

Contents
1.
2.

3.

4.

5.
6.
7.

1.

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Operation strategies for performance intensification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
2.1. Effluent recirculation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
2.2. Artificial aeration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
2.3. Tidal operation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
2.4. Drop aeration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
2.5. Flow direction reciprocation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
2.6. Earthworm integration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
2.7. Bioaugmentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
Configuration innovations to enhance performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
3.1. Circular-flow corridor CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
3.2. Towery hybrid CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
3.3. Baffled subsurface-flow CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
3.4. Microbial fuel cell CWs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Supply of electron donors to enhance the removal of selected inorganic oxygenated anions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
4.1. Organic carbon added CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
4.2. Organic filtration media CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
4.3. Episediment layer-integrated CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
4.4. Step-feeding CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
4.5. Autotrophic denitrification-driven CW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Specific soil material selection for microbial biofilms establishment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Thermal insulation in cold climate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51

Introduction

The constructed wetlands (CWs) for wastewater treatment,


also known as treatment wetlands, are engineered systems
designed and constructed to utilize natural processes and
remove pollutants from contaminated water within a more
controlled environment (Faulwetter et al., 2009; Vymazal,
2011a). These systems have developed rapidly over the last
three decades, and CWs have been established worldwide as
an alternative to conventional more technically equipped
treatment systems for the sanitation of small communities
(Garcia et al., 2010). These systems are robust, have low
external energy requirements, and are easy to operate and
maintain, which makes them suitable for decentralized
wastewater treatment in the areas that do not have public
sewage systems or that are economically underdeveloped
(Brix, 1999; Vymazal, 2009).
The technology of wastewater treatment by CWs was
especially spurred on by Kathe Seidel in the 1960s (Seidel,
1961) and by Reinhold Kickuth in the 1970s (Kickuth, 1978;
Brix, 1987). At the early stage of CW development, the application of CWs was mainly used for the treatment of traditional
tertiary and secondary domestic/municipal wastewater
(Kivaisi, 2001) and was often dominated by free-water-surface
CWs in North America and horizontal subsurface-flow (HSSF)

CWs in Europe and Australia (Brix, 1994b; Vymazal, 2011a).


Aiming at inexpensive and effective ecological wastewater
purification, CW development has received great attention
from both scientists and engineers in the last decades. The
application of CWs has also been significantly expanded to
purify agricultural effluents (Zhao et al., 2004b; Wood et al.,
2007), tile drainage waters (Borin and Toccheto, 2007;
Kynkaanniemi et al., 2013), acid mine drainage (Wieder,
1989), industrial effluents (Mbuligwe, 2005; Calheiros et al.,
2012), landfill leachates (Justin and Zupancic, 2009), aquaculture waters (Trang and Brix, 2014), and urban and highway
 et al., 2012).
runoff (Scholes et al., 1999; Istenic
The removal of contaminants in CWs is complex and depends on a variety of removal mechanisms, including sedimentation, filtration, precipitation, volatilization, adsorption,
plant uptake, and various microbial processes (Vymazal, 2007;
Kadlec and Wallace, 2009; Faulwetter et al., 2009). These processes are generally directly and/or indirectly influenced by
the different loading rates, temperatures, soil types, operation
strategies and redox conditions in the wetland bed
(Biederman et al., 2002; Stein et al., 2003; Stein and Hook, 2005;
Yang et al., 2011). Given the fast urbanization and the land
protection for crop production, natural passive CWs cannot be
fully promoted because of the large area requirement. The
number of research groups that study how these factors
perform in the contaminant removal in CWs has dramatically

42

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

increased in recent years. Similarly, the volume of knowledge


and information published in international journals and
books on minimizing the influences of these factors and
possible solutions suggested to improve the treatment performance has increased considerably. Better understanding of
the intensified removal processes responsible for water
treatment has expanded concurrently with CW usage and has
led to a great variety of designs and configurations, such as
aerated subsurface-flow CWs (Nivala et al., 2007, 2013b),
baffled subsurface-flow CWs (Tee et al., 2012), and combinations of either various types of CWs (Vymazal, 2013) and/or
with other technologies, to enhance the performance of CWs
for wastewater treatment [e.g., microbial fuel cell (MFC) and
electrochemical oxidation] (Grafias et al., 2010; Yadav et al.,
2012) (Fig. 1).
The main objective of this paper is to review and discuss
the recent developments in CW technology considering a wide
range of expanded designs, configurations, and combinations
with other technologies for the enhancement of wastewater

treatment, mainly targeted on the removal of nitrogen and


organic matter. By this study, new ideas should be inspired.

2.
Operation strategies for performance
intensification
2.1.

Effluent recirculation

Effluent recirculation has been proposed by various authors


(Sun et al., 2003; Arias et al., 2005; He et al., 2006a,b) as an
operational modification to improve the effluent quality of
CWs (Table 1). The concept of this method consists of
extracting a part of the effluent and transferring it back to
the inflow of the system. The main goal of effluent recirculation is to enhance aerobic microbial activity through the
intense interactions between pollutants and microorganisms, which are close to the plant roots and onto the
substrate surface, without significant alterations in the

Fig. 1 e Intensified constructed wetlands (a, artificial aerated CW modified with graphical components from Wallace and
Knight (2006); b, drop aerated CW modified with graphical components from Wallace and Knight (2006) and from Zou et al.,
2012; c, baffled flow CW modified with graphical components from Wallace and Knight (2006); d, step feeding CW modified
with graphical components from Wallace and Knight (2006); e, hybrid towery CW modified from Ye and Li, 2009; f, circularflow corridor CW modified from Peng et al., 2012).

43

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

Table 1 e The application of recirculation in subsurface flow CWs treating various wastewaters.
CW
type

VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
HF
HF
VF
VF
VF
VF
TF
TF

Scale

Pilot
Pilot
Pilot
Pilot
Full
Full
Pilot
Pilot
Pilot
Pilot
Pilot
Pilot
Lab
Lab

WT

D
P
P
P
D
D
O
S
P
P
P
P
P
L

Area
(m2)

HLR
(L/m2d)

Recycle
ratio

2.25
1
1
1

168  44
40
40
40
0.4 m/d
0.4 m/d
69

0.6
1
2.5
5
1
0.5
1
0.5
0.25
0.5
1
1.5
1
1

45.5
2.25
4
4
4
4
0.028
0.028

100
100
100
100
420
430

NH4eN

COD

Remarks

In (mg/L)

Out
(mg/L)

In (mg/L)

Out
(mg/L)

438  88
613e1193
613e1193
613e1193
736  240
867  127
6684
458.4
440.5
410.6
360.6
330.5
1359
2464

68  36

85
43
48
47
92
90
90
85
56.8
66.7
74.1
81.3
75.2
77.3

58  9
529e1005
529e1005
529e1005
48  5
70  5
16.2
25.1
111.6
101.5
94.5
85.9
121
121

16  5

72
81
92
95
77
57
55
38
42.3
43.9
57
61.7
47.9
61.8

73  7
146  11
685
63.6
190.3
136.8
93.4
61.8
337

15  2
33  10
7.3
14.9
64.4
56.9
40.6
32.9
63

Zeolite
Zeolite
Zeolite

Reference

1
2
2
2
3
3
4
5
6
6
6
6
7
8

Recycle ratio was defined as the recirculated volume/influent volume. The COD data shown in the table referred from He et al., 2006a,b and Sun
et al., 2005 is provided in BOD. WT means wastewater type including domestic (D), piggery (P), olive mill (O), synthetic (S), artificial leachate (L)
wastewater.
Reference: 1, (Foladori et al., 2013); 2, (Huang et al., 2013); 3, (Prost-Boucle and Molle, 2012); 4, (Kapellakis et al., 2012); 5, (Stefanakis and
Tsihrintzis, 2009); 6, (He et al., 2006a,b); 7, (Sun et al., 2005); 8, (Zhao et al., 2004b).

system operation (Zhao et al., 2004b). As shown in Table 1,


the application of recirculation mostly occurs in subsurface
flow CWs including horizontal subsurface flow CWs, vertical
flow CWs and tidal flow CWs. Moreover, the recirculation
ratio varies from 0.5 to 2.5. Prost-Boucle and Molle (2012)
investigated the use of recirculation on a single French
vertical-flow CW to replace the classical French vertical-flow
CWs, which generally comprise two stages of treatment.
Considering a total surface of 1.1 m2/p.e. to 1.6 m2/p.e. on
the studied recirculated single-stage vertical-flow CW, the
treatment performance is similar to that obtained on a
classical French system with two successive stages for a
total surface of 2 m2/p.e.; this result indicates the positive
effect of recirculation on the performance enhancement in
CWs for wastewater treatment (Prost-Boucle and Molle,
2012). The application of recirculation in hybrid CWs in
serially operated with horizontal and vertical-subsurfaceflow CWs has also been proved to be effective in total N
(TN) removal enhancement (Arias et al., 2005; Ayaz et al.,
2012). Lavrova and Koumanova (2010) recommend that the
recirculation ratio should be considered for the proper
design of CWs by investigating the influence of recirculation
in a lab-scale vertical-flow CW on the treatment of landfill
leachate. However, effluent recirculation may cause problems in horizontal-flow CWs given the increased hydraulic
load, whereas it is suggested as an easily applicable and
effective method in the vertical-flow systems with high
hydraulic conductivity values (Laber et al., 1997; Brix and
Arias, 2005). Stefanakis and Tsihrintzis (2009) studied the
effect of effluent recirculation on the removal efficiency of
pilot-scale HSSF CWs. Their results obtained do not support
the idea that effluent recirculation can improve the removal
rates. The effluent recirculation negatively affected wetland
performance, which resulted in a reduction of all pollutant
removal rates. However, Arias et al. (2005) clearly documented that the recirculation of treated and nitrified

effluents from a vertical-flow CW enhanced TN removal by


denitrification when the nitrified re-circulated water was
mixed with untreated organic C-rich wastewater in the
inflow. This recirculation also removed other wastewater
constituents. The use of recirculation to enhance the performance in CWs depends on many factors, including the
CW types and influent loads. Moreover, in full-scale operating facilities, this modification may increase operation
costs given additional energy consumption for pumping.

2.2.

Artificial aeration

The poor oxygen transfer rates in traditional HSSF CWs often


restrict treatment efficiency. The energy inputs to CWs can
overcome oxygen transfer limitations to meet advanced
treatment standards (Austin and Nivala, 2009; Nivala et al.,
2013a). The aeration of CWs with compressed air (Fig. 1 and
Table 2) (Nivala et al., 2007; Tang et al., 2009; Zhang et al., 2010)
requires about half of the power of an equally performing and
sized-activated sludge system for N removal (Austin and
Nivala, 2009). Even though the use of aeration was found in
both horizontal subsurface flow CWs and vertical flow CWs,
but still mostly in vertical flow CWs (Table 1). A significant
improvement of organic matter, ammonium as well as fecal
coliform bacteria (Escherichia coli) removal by using artificial
aeration has been indicated (Headley et al., 2013). However,
the effect of artificial aeration on the removal of phosphorus is
still not clear. Tang et al. (2009) applying aeration cycles of 8 h
daily, showed that the artificial aeration (dissolved oxygen
concentrations above 2 mg/L, and ORP of 300 mV), increased
P removal to 50% in vertical flow CW. Moreover, Vera et al.
(2014) found a significant effect of aeration in the gravel medium mesocosm-scale CW with an increase in up to 30% for
PO34 eP removal. However, Tao et al. (2010) and Zhang et al.
(2010) found that artificial aeration did not have significant
influence (p > .05) on P removal.

44

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

Table 2 e The application of aeration in subsurface flow CWs treating various wastewaters.
CW
type

Scale

WT

Area
(m2)

VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
VF
HF

Pilot
Pilot
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Full
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Pilot

D
D
S
S
S
S
D
S
S
R
R
R
R
R
R
D

2.25
6.2
0.03
0.03
0.03
0.03
2495
0.03
0.03
0.018
0.018
0.018
0.018
0.018
0.018
2.1

HF

Pilot

2.1

HLR
(L/m2d)

NH4eN

COD
In (mg/L)

Out
(mg/L)

158  17
95
70
70
70
70
1600
70
70
190
190
380
380
760
760
65

438  88
233  76
113  6
217  13
429  14
836  17
53  29
352  12
352  12
65e158
65e158
65e158
65e158
65e158
65e158
570  72

52  17
5.0  4.4
10  13
11  7
17  13
22  13
31  19
10  4
13  6
20
25
20
27
25
32

65

570  72

In (mg/L)

Out
(mg/L)
20  4
0.5  0.3
0.4  0.9
0.3  0.5
0.3  0.5
1.7  1.0

50
97
96
80
78
75
65
73
64
94  0.9

58  9
54.9  16.6
40  0.4
40  0.9
40  0.4
40  0.4
5.14  3.10
46.1  1.2
46.1  1.2
3.5e10.6
3.5e10.6
3.5e10.6
3.5e10.6
3.5e10.6
3.5e10.6
35.7  9.7

87  4.4

35.7  9.7

86

0.6  0.2
1.3  0.3
1
1.9
0.9
2.0
2.5
3.2

Aeration
type

Reference

Intermittent

1
2
3
3
3
3
4
5
5
6
6
6
6
6
6
7

%
69

85
99
97
87
78
80
65
65
54
89  7
72  11

Continuous
Intermittent
Continuous
Intermittent
Continuous
Intermittent
Continuous
Intermittent
Limited
aeration
Limited,
unplanted

WT means wastewater type including domestic (D), synthetic (S), and polluted river (R). The COD data shown in the table referred from Nivala
et al., 2013 is provided in BOD.
Reference: 1, (Foladori et al., 2013); 2, (Nivala et al., 2013b); 3, (Fan et al., 2013b); 4, (Pan et al., 2012); 5, (Fan et al., 2013a); 6, (Dong et al., 2012); 7,
(Zhang et al., 2010).

Although the oxygen input from the plant roots is quite


limited compared to the artificial aeration, the role of plants
cannot be replaced (Brix, 1994a; Vymazal, 2011b). OuelletPlamondon et al. (2006) investigated the effects of vegetation
and artificial aeration on the pollutant removal performance
of CWs. The results indicate that the artificial aeration
improved TKN removal for the unplanted units in both summer and winter. However, the additional aeration did not fully
compensate the absence of plants, which suggests that the
role of macrophytes is beyond the sole addition of oxygen in
the rhizosphere (Ouellet-Plamondon et al., 2006).
The artificial aeration in subsurface flow CWs performed in
continuous mode (i.e., 24 h per day) can lead to the contradiction between the removal of ammonium nitrogen (NH4eN)
and TN because of the lack of favorable anaerobic conditions
for denitrification. Moreover, the operation costs also remain
questionable. Intermittent aeration appears to be an effective
method to achieve high TN removal by providing alternate
aerobic/anaerobic conditions for the simultaneously occurring nitrification and denitrification. The intermittent aeration
is also much energy-economic than the continuous mode. Fan
et al. (2013a,b,c) reported an intermittent aeration SSFCW with
a removal efficiency of about 90% of ammonium (3.5 g/m2 d)
and 80% of TN (3.3 g/m2 d). Moreover, an extraordinary nitrogen removal performance with mean total nitrogen
removal efficiency of 90% under N loading rate of 46.7 gN/m2d
was demonstrated in a laboratory scale alum sludge-based
intermittent aeration CW (Hu et al., 2012a,b).
The decision to aerate SSFCWs leads to the additional costs
for operation and maintenance of the facility. Aeration is only
justified when its lifecycle cost is sufficiently offset by the
reduction in the capital cost by the net savings of reduced

wetland area size (Kadlec and Wallace, 2009). Wetland designers should also consider the fouling of air diffusers within
CWs and the provisions for the cleaning or replacement of the
diffuser assemblies (Kadlec and Wallace, 2009)
Aside from improving the pollutant removal efficiencies,
artificial aeration also influences the solid accumulation in
CWs (Chazarenc et al., 2009). Artificial aeration may have both
positive and negative effects. Aeration (gas bubbling) reduces
the settling of suspended solids, such that they can be better
flushed out from the system. Nevertheless, aeration also causes
higher microbial biomass yield. Artificial aeration also increases microbial activities, leading to a change of both microbial community structure and diversity. Furthermore, this
method affects other processes inside the CW bed. Hence, the
long-term effects of artificial aeration on CWs, such as clogging
etc., should be further investigated (Chazarenc et al., 2009).

2.3.

Tidal operation

A method for solving the oxygen transfer limitations in


traditional CWs is the tidal-flow operation, which is characterized by multiple periodical flood and drain cycles per day.
As wastewater fills and drains, air drawn into the soil pores
and rapidly oxygenates the bio- and remaining waterfilms
(Sun et al., 2007; Chan et al., 2008; Wu et al., 2011a,b). Intensified nitrification mainly occurs when the wetland bed
drains; thus, oxidizing ammonium ions that are adsorbed to
biofilms/soil particles dissolved in the remaining water on the
soil particle and root surface. Nitrate ions desorb into the bulk
water in subsequent flooded phase and are reduced to N gas
by denitrifiers with organic C as electron donor (Austin, 2006).
The N removal is enhanced by the alternate aerobic and

45

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

Table 3 e The application of tidal operational strategy in subsurface flow CWs treating various wastewaters.
No.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32

Scale

Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Lab
Pilot
Pilot
Pilot

WT

S
S
S
S
P
P
P
P
S
S
S
S
P
P
P
P
S
S
S
S
S
S
W
S
S
S
S
S
S
P
S
D

Area
(m2)

HLR
(L/m2 d)

Fill and
drain time
ratio (h:h)

0.025
0.025
0.025
0.025
0.112
0.112
0.112
0.112
0.018
0.018
0.018
0.018
0.0071
0.008
0.008
0.008
0.025
0.025
0.025
0.025
0.025
0.025
0.328
0.007
0.007
0.007
0.007
0.007
0.007
40.03
8.9
13.2

900
900
900
900
210
210
210
210
1200
1200
1200
1200
430
1600
1600
1600
480
480
480
480
480
480
22.5
440
440
440
440
440
440
120
191
0.15

3:3
3:3
3:3
3:3
1:3
1:3
1:3
1:3
1.5:0.5
1.5:0.5
1.5:0.5
1.5:0.5
1:3
3:1
2:2
1:3
1.5:0.5
1:3
2:3
3:3
4:3
5:3
e
6.75:0.5
5.75:1.5
4.75:2.5
4.75:2.5
4.75:2.5
4.75:2.5
e
e
1:0.5

NH
4 eN

COD
In (mg/L)
193 
193 
366 
366 
2157
2157
2157
2157
200 
200 
200 
200 
2464
4254
4254
4254
189.6
246.7
246.7
246.7
246.7
246.7
30
590
436
552
207
224
464
2750
428
206 

44
44
37
37

26
26
26
26

84

Out
(mg/L)

80  20
28  15
62  30
51  13
1716
1450
1142
918
40
40
100
190
559
1791
1306
617
11.8
50.1
23.9
28.1
36.0
36.0
22
252
133
91
78
64
81
557
5.2
3.4  3.8

84 
82 
86 
91 
20
33
47
57
80
80
50
5
77.3
57.9
69.3
85.5
94
79.7
90.3
88.6
85.4
85.4
23
49
65
83
62
70
82
80
98.7
98

10
8
9
4

In (mg/L)

Out
(mg/L)

38  10
75  6
75  6
34  6
104
104
104
104
20  3
20  3
20  3
20  3
121
159.2
159.2
159.2
20.1
27.2
27.2
27.2
27.2
27.2
24.4
42
46
51
55
52
50
201
e
49  18

74
13  3
30  6
23  6
98
90
81
76
1
1
3
e
46
120.4
117.3
81
1.1
20.4
10.5
8.7
11.5
10.4
1.0
23.5
13.9
2.2
3.3
2.2
2.5
84
e
4.3  10.5

Reference
%
82 
74 
67 
33 
6
13
22
27
941
951
872
e
61.8
24.4
26.3
39.0
95
24.9
61.4
68.1
57.9
61.8
95.5
43
70
96
94
96
95
58
e
91

13
13
16
17

[1]
[1]
[1]
[1]
[2]
[2]
[2]
[2]
[3]
[3]
[3]
[3]
[4]
[5]
[5]
[5]
[6]
[7]
[7]
[7]
[7]
[7]
[8]
[9]
[9]
[9]
[9]
[9]
[9]
[10]
[11]
12,13]

WT means wastewater type including piggery (P), demestic (D), synthetic (S), and secondary effluent from WWTP (W). The COD data shown in
the table referred from Wu et al., 2011a,b, Sun et al., 2005 and Nivala et al., 2013a and 2013b is provided in BOD.
Reference: 1, (Wu et al., 2011a,b); 2, (Sun et al., 2005); 3, (Lv et al., 2013a); 4, (Zhao et al., 2004a); 5, (Zhao et al., 2004c); 6, (Lv et al., 2013b); 7, (Wu
et al., 2010); 8, (Liu et al., 2012); 9, (Hu et al., 2014); 10, (Sun et al., 2006); 11, (Austin et al., 2003); 12, (Nivala et al., 2013a); 13, (Nivala et al., 2013b).

anaerobic environments. This technology has been demonstrated in multiple studies and projects (Sun et al., 1999; Zhao
et al., 2004a; Chan et al., 2008; Abou-Elela and Hellal, 2012) and
requires about half of the power of aerated wetlands (Austin
and Nivala, 2009).
The literature reported application of tidal operational
strategy in CWs was summarized in Table 3. For this technology, most investigations are conducted in laboratory scale,
and thus more pilot and even full scale measurements should
be further demonstrated for better understanding of the
mechanisms of pollutants removal. The performance of tidalflow CWs depends on many factors, such as flood drain ratios,
oxygen transfer, and substrate characteristics. Zhao et al.
(2004c) optimized five-stage identical tidal-flow CWs with
three different flood drain ratios in treating high-strength
agricultural wastewaters. The experimental results demonstrate that the system produced the highest pollutant removal
efficiency with relatively short saturated period and long unsaturated period, highlighting the importance of oxygen
transfer into reed-bed matrices (Zhao et al., 2004c). Moreover,

a pilot field-scale alum sludge-based CW operated in this tidal


flow mode showed significant enhanced capacity for phosphorus and organic matter removal from animal farm
wastewater (Zhao et al., 2011). However, with the filtration of
suspended solids and the accumulation of biomass, the reedbed matrices gradually clogged that affected the long-term
efficiency of the current tidal-flow reed-bed system (Zhao
et al., 2004c; Wu et al., 2011a,b).
The cation-exchange capacity (CEC) of aggregates (or
media) is proved to affect the treatment performance in tidalflow wetland-treatment systems. Higher CEC could stimulate
more ammonium adsorption during the flooded phase and
increase N removal. In a column study, an electrostatically
neutral, high-density polyethylene has been compared to
lightweight expanded shale aggregate with a CEC of approximately 4.0 meq/100 g. The results show that the CEC of aggregates or media in flood and drain wetlands should be a
critical design criterion (Austin, 2006). Therefore, the selection
of substrates with high CEC should be emphasized in the
future. The longevity of the substrate and the influence of

46

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

biofilm on the surface of the selected substrate on the cation


exchange should also be investigated.
This tidal approach could also be used for partial nitrification with following anaerobic ammonium oxidation
(anammox) in the case of ammonium-rich wastewaters with
low organic C content. Nevertheless, the process control
regarding limited ammonium oxidation to nitrite in solid filter
systems remains a challenge.

2.4.

Drop aeration

Considering the low pollutant removal efficiency in conventional CWs and limited oxygen transfer capability, a novel
vertical-flow CW system feed with drop-aerated influent has
been developed (Fig. 1) (Zou et al., 2012). The capacity of
enhanced oxygen transfer with a multilevel, two-layer drop
aeration and its corresponding pollutant treatment performance has been investigated in two pilot-scale vertical-flow
CWs of 0.75 m2 each. The results demonstrate that compared
with the feed of direct drop aeration, the multilevel, two-layer
drop aeration supplied 2 mg/L to 6 mg/L higher dissolved oxygen in the influent per meter of drop height. After the
installation of the six-level, two-layer drop aeration, the fiveday biological oxygen demand (BOD5) removal load
increased from 8.1 g/m2 d to 14.2 g/m2 d. As no any operational
problem occurred during the whole investigation period (Jan.
2009eMar. 2011), the vertical-flow CWs with drop aerated
influent seem to be an appropriate alternative for rural
wastewater treatment, with numerous advantages, such as
low capital and operation costs, easy maintenance, high hydraulic loading rate, high pollutant removal efficiency, and no
clogging. The drop aeration can work well in subtropical zones
around the whole year and in moderate climatic zones during
the summer period. However, low temperature would freeze
the influent dropping device in cold climates. Nuisance and
insect problems may occur because of the exposure of poorly
treated wastewater to the atmosphere.

2.5.

Flow direction reciprocation

Horizontal subsurface CWs are widely used to treat wastewater. However, their capacity is severely confined by clogging problems, which are very common during the lifespan of
subsurface CWs. Shen et al. (2010) executed a new operation
mode by changing the flow direction periodically and studied
its performance on pollutant removal. The three yearexperimental results show that the CW with new operation
mode achieved better pollutant removal efficiency than
traditional operation mode. The microorganism test shows
that the reciprocating flow direction had larger quantity
microorganism, which effectively prevented organic compound accumulation. The readings of gauge glass in the
traditional SSFCW rose gradually, while the water level kept
stable in reciprocating one, which also reflected the severity of
the clogging problem in the two wetlands. During the whole
operation period, the SSFCW with reciprocating operation
mode did not have any infiltration problem, whereas the
SSFCW with traditional operation mode had visible clogging
problems as a result of the pollutant accumulation in the inlet
zone (Shen et al., 2010).

2.6.

Earthworm integration

Owing to the high solid and organic matter contents in


wastewater, clogging potential is one of the major obstacles
for the efficient use of SSFCWs when treating high-strength
wastewaters. Kadlec and Wallace (2009) recommended that
cross-sectional BOD loading should be less than 250 g/m2 d for
the bed media with a d10 greater than 4 mm. Finer bed media
would require an even lower cross-sectional loading, which is
still unable to be elucidated due to the limited data. As
earthworms play an important role in the ecological systems
because they can breakdown a wide range of organic materials, they are applied in a form of vermicomposting technology to treat swine manure and vermifiltration to purify
wastewater (Taylor et al., 2003). To solve the clogging problem
and help digest the solids associated with clogging within
CWs, they have also been integrated into SSFCWs in recent
years. Davison et al. (2005) state that the intentional introduction of earthworms may offer a natural alternative for
cleaning clogged substrates in HSSF CWs. In lab- and pilotscale studies, this concept has been examined in terms of
alleviating the clogging situation (Chiarawatchai et al., 2007;
Chiarawatchai and Nuengjamnong, 2009). The results show
that earthworms helped in reducing the sludge production on
the surface of the experimental vertical-flow CWs (40% by
volume), which resulted in lowering the operational costs
required to empty and treat sludge.
The introduction of earthworms in subsurface flow CWs
could also enhance the density and biomass of wetland
plants, resulting in higher N and P uptake (Xu et al., 2013).
However, given the limited nutrient content in plants, only a
minor difference has been reported in terms of removal efficiency when comparing the unit with earthworms to the one
without earthworms (Li et al., 2011).

2.7.

Bioaugmentation

The bioaugmentation in CWs is the supplementing of microbes that have certain favorable metabolic traits into
wetland beds to accelerate the biodegradation of pollutants
(Nurk et al., 2009; Merlin and Cottin, 2012). To achieve the
water purification efficiency that is typical of the mature CWs,
an adaptation period after the construction is generally
needed to develop the treatment capacity for N and C transformations (Nurk et al., 2009). Bioaugmentation would be one
possibility for the shortening of the adaptation period to
accelerate the development of the necessary characteristics of
the local microbial community. Bioaugmentation has also
been performed in CWs for intensifying the degradation of
some specific pollutants, such as pesticides (Runes et al., 2001)
and organic chemicals (Simon et al., 2004), and the removal of
heavy metals (Park et al., 2008), because the metabolic pathways of these functional bacteria are not highly present in the
environment. Adding a specially adapted microbial community could generally yield positive results. Runes et al. (2001)
investigated the effect of bioaugmentation on small quantities of atrazine spill-site soil in CWs with a mineralization of
25e30% and compared with unbioaugmented CWs with an
atrazine mineralization rate of 2e3%. Zaytsev et al. (2011)
studied the effect of adding low concentrations of a

47

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

Table 4 e The performance of literature reported lab-scale microbial fuel cell CWs.
Wastewater
Dye
Swine

Dye

Operation

HRT (d)

COD removal (%)

Electricity peak
production (mW/m2)

Reference

Batch
Batch
Batch
Continuous
Continuous
Continuous-unplanted

4
10
10
1
3
3

65.0e75.0
73.6e75.1
65.8e71.6
76.5
85.7
82.7

9.95e15.73
0.013
0.006
9.40
30.20
19.10

Yadav et al., 2012


Zhao et al., 2013

sediment/microbial community suspension into the wetland


bed to fasten the development of denitrification capacity in
the HSSF CWs during one year. The findings emphasize the
high variability of the bioaugmentation effect and its importance in a full-scale operation may be overshadowed by the
effect of other factors determining treatment performance.

3.
Configuration innovations to enhance
performance
3.1.

Circular-flow corridor CW

The application of CWs has been increased in the last decades


due to its cost-effectiveness and efficiency. However, some
operational problems arise if the conventional subsurface
flow wetlands were directly used for the treatment of highstrength wastewaters, such as the inhibition of high influent
concentration ammonium on plants and deficiency of oxygen
for large amounts of organic matter degradation. Considering
the fact that the partial recirculation of treated wastewaters
within wetlands benefits the removal of TN, a circular-flow
corridor wetland has been developed in circular-flow operational mode treating swine wastewater (Peng et al., 2012).
Several compartments connected in an annular corridor
(Fig. 1). An overflow weir used in the final compartment for
effluent collection could control certain amount of treated
water flow back to the inflow zone. For the treatment of highstrength wastewater, such as swine wastewater, this circulation can not only enhance TN removal but also dilute the
inflow water to avoid the negative effects for both plants and
microorganisms from high pollutant concentration. Interestingly, the circular flow corridor CW was found to avoid the
adverse effect of low temperature on the removal performance, possibly due to the internal circular-flow mode.
Moreover, this internal circular-flow mode delays the clogging
of wetland porous media and increases the utility of released
Ca2 and Mg2 from zeolite for P removal.

3.2.

Towery hybrid CW

To enhance N removal, another novel CW configuration with


three stages, i.e., towery hybrid CW, has been designed (Ye
and Li, 2009). In this system, the first and third stages are
rectangular subsurface horizontal-flow CWs, and the second
stage is a circular three-layer free-water-flow CW (Fig. 1). The
increased dissolved oxygen concentration by the passive
aeration of a tower-type cascade overflow from the upper
layer into the lower layer in the second stage of the wetland

Fang et al., 2013

enhanced nitrification rates. Denitrification rates were also


improved by additional organic matter supplied as a result of
the bypass of influent directly into the second stage. The
average removal percentage was 89%, 85%, 83%, 83%, and 64%
for total suspended solid (TSS), chemical oxygen demand
(COD), NH4eN, TN, and TP, respectively. No significant difference was found at low and high hydraulic loads (16 and
32 cm/d) for performance. The nitrifying and denitrifying
bacteria as well as potential nitrification activity and potential
denitrification rates measurement show that nitrificationedenitrification is the main mechanism for N removal in
wetlands.

3.3.

Baffled subsurface-flow CW

A novel design for the horizontal subsurface flow CWs incorporating up and down flow sequentially has been developed
as baffled subsurface-flow CWs to enhance pollutant removal
(Tee et al., 2012; Wang et al., 2012). This design allows the
treatment of the pollutants under multiple aerobic, anoxic,
and anaerobic conditions sequentially in the same CW (Fig. 1).
This task is achieved by inserting vertical baffles along the
width of the wetland, which forces the wastewater to flow up
and down instead of horizontally as it traveled from the inlet
to the outlet. The results show that the planted baffled unit
achieved 74%, 84%, and 99% NH4eN removal versus 55%, 70%,
and 96% for the conventional unit at hydraulic retention time
(HRT) of 2, 3, and 5 days, respectively (Tee et al., 2012). The
better performance of the baffled unit was explained by the
longer pathway because of the up-flow and down-flow conditions sequentially, which allowed more contact of the
wastewater with the roots/rhizomes and micro-aerobic zones.
The changes in the total slope design because of the longer
water flow path must be considered.

3.4.

Microbial fuel cell CWs

Microbial fuel cell consists of two chambers, anaerobic and


aerobic chambers, where oxidation and reduction reactions
occur. On the assumption that CWs also consist of aerobic and
anaerobic zones, this similarity in both technologies motivated the combination of CWs with MFCs (i.e., CWeMFC)
(Yadav et al., 2012). A cathode electrode has been placed in the
upper near to the rooted zone of the wetland bed. This zone is
more aerobic than the deeper less rooted zone owing to the air
diffusion from the immediate outer atmosphere and the oxygen leakage from the helophyte (emergent water plant) roots
(Schamphelaire et al., 2008). The anode has been placed near
to the bottom of microcosm CW with the idea that this zone

48

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

will be comparatively anaerobic and suitable for the anodic


reaction of the MFC. Experiments are limited only, and the
results of electricity production are quite variable (Table 4).
The role of plants has also been examined in two CWeMFC
systems for azo dye-wastewater treatment with/without the
vegetation of Ipomoea aquatica (Fang et al., 2013). The results
indicate that the plants around the cathode can foster the
output voltage of MFC given the enhanced oxygen concentration in the cathode. The effect of the artificial aeration of
cathode in CW-MFC has also been investigated and a significant power density has been achieved (Zhao et al., 2013).
This integration of MFC with CWs bears the potential to
achieve the dual goals of power generation concomitantly and
advance wastewater treatment. Nevertheless, whether minimal construction and operation costs in near future electricity
of an appropriate amount and economic relevance will be
produced by this integration remains a question. Although no
adverse effect of MFC on the ability of CW to fulfill its primary
objective of efficient wastewater treatment has been
observed, the responses of the structure and function of the
microbial community to the external circuit are also of scientific interest.

4.
Supply of electron donors to enhance the
removal of selected inorganic oxygenated anions
The nitrite and nitrate in domestic sewage are easily reduced
by microorganism to N gas and leave the wastewater. However, oxygenated inorganic anions, such as sulfate (SO2
4 ), can
also be reduced, which can be technically applied for heavy
metal precipitation as the insoluble sulfides. Other industrial
chemicals, such as chlorate, perchlorate, chromate, and dichromate, that contaminate effluents, surface waters, and
groundwater can also be reduced and detoxified by microorganisms (Kosolapov et al., 2004). The nitrate nitrogen
NO
3 eN in CWs is removed mainly by plant uptake and
microbial denitrification, which is believed to be the dominant and long-term mechanism, especially when nitrateloading rates are high (Lin et al., 2002). As the main mechanism for removing nitrate in CWs, denitrification is an
anaerobic dissimilative pathway, in which an electron donor
is often needed, such as organic carbon. The carbon source in
the system of CWs usually comes from wastewater, soil, and
the rhizodeposition products of plants (Zhai et al., 2013). For
the CWs that receive poorly-treated secondary effluent, some
of the carbon required for denitrification is normally contained in the effluent. In contrast, nitrate-contaminated
groundwater would normally do not have labile carbon to
sustain denitrification, and 100% of the carbon required for
denitrification would have to come from the wetland. Wetlands could potentially use plant productivity, either from
biomass or root release, as the source of energy and C to
sustain denitrification (Zhai et al., 2013). To treat low C/N
ratio wastewaters, such as nitrate-rich agricultural runoff
and polluted groundwater, the carbon source only from the
root exudates of macrophytes is not sufficient to maintain a
high performance of nitrate removal (Davison et al., 2005; Lu
et al., 2009). This phenomenon derives the supply of the
electron donors externally.

4.1.

Organic carbon added CW

The addition of various carbon sources, such as glucose, sodium acetate, methanol, starch, and cellulose, to enhance the
denitrification rate in wetlands has been investigated in the
last decades (Sirivedhin and Gray, 2006; Lu et al., 2009). Lin
et al. (2002) established several microcosm wetlands to
investigate the effects of vegetation and externally added
organic matter on nitrate removal from groundwater in CWs.
The results showed that the planted wetlands exhibited
significantly greater nitrate removal than the unplanted wetlands, indicating that macrophytes fostered efficient nitrate
removal. Although adding external carbon to the influent
improved the nitrate removal, a significant fraction of the
added carbon was lost via other microbial processes (e.g.,
oxidation) in the wetlands and it obviously increased the
costs.

4.2.

Organic filtration media CW

The limitation of costly external carbon addition fosters the


exploration of employing low-cost alternatives in wetland
systems for the enhancement of denitrification. Solid organic
materials, rich in organic carbon, are one of the possible options to meet the demand of electron donors in denitrification.
Saeed and Sun (2011) conducted a comparative evaluation of
different materials (i.e., gravel, organic wood mulch, and
mixture of gravelewood mulch) on N removal in six lab-scale
CWs, including both vertical and horizontal units. Higher
removal efficiencies in the vertical-wetland columns with
organic mulch substrate was observed for both BOD5 and TN,
which was primarily caused by the enhanced oxygen transfer
for nitrification and the organic carbon from the wood mulch
substrate for heterotrophic denitrification. Among the
horizontal-flow CWs, conventional gravel substrate was the
most efficient for the removal of NH4eN and organic matter.
By contrast, the other two horizontal-flow CWs, which
employed wood mulch and gravelemulch media, caused net
increases in organics, phosphorus, and TSS in the synthetic
wastewater. Overall, the results demonstrate the potential of
using organic materials in vertical-flow CWs to enhance TN
removal, but the organic materials should not be used in
horizontal-flow systems.

4.3.

Episediment layer-integrated CW

An episediment zone in surface flow wetland microcosms has


been designed to test whether the variations in the macroporous structure of the denitrification zone affect the overall
nitrate removal (Fleming-Singer and Horne, 2002). The episediment zone is a distinct layer of loosely aggregated litter
pieces placed at the top of the sediment matrix. The results
show that the average denitrification is 33% greater in the
episediment treatment than in the sedimentation treatment
only. The analysis of vertical nitrate profile data using diffusive and turbulent mixing models indicates that about 40% of
the nitrate removal occurs in the episediment zone. The
establishment of an episediment layer can increase the
denitrification in treatment wetlands, which receive nitrate in
overlying water.

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

4.4.

Step-feeding CW

For the targeting enhancement of denitrification in CW


treating wastewaters with high nitrate and low organic matter, a step-feeding strategy can be adopted to introduce the
gradational inflow of the wastewater into the wetland bed
(Fig. 1). This term refers to the wastewater inflow at more than
one input point along the wetland flow length. Although the
published literature on wastewater step-feeding in wetland
systems is lacking, this strategy has been proposed by some
researchers (Stefanakis et al., 2011; Hu et al., 2012a,b; Fan
et al., 2013a,b,c). In the pilot-scale systems, the concept of
step-feeding has been used to realize more effective utilization of the whole wetland surface area and avoid rapid clogging by distributing suspended solids and organic loading in
the influent along a greater portion of the wetland (Stefanakis
et al., 2011). Aside from improving the effective utilization of
wetland bed, the intensified denitrification from C source via
step-feeding by distributing organic matter in the raw influent
wastewater to the later stage of wetlands could be more
important (Fan et al., 2013a,b,c). This design/operation
parameter should be carefully investigated and optimized
avoiding the second pollution of the treated effluent from the
former wetland stages.

4.5.

Autotrophic denitrification-driven CW

Bezbaruah and Zhang (2003) used elemental sulfur/limestone


autotrophic denitrification in nitrate removal enhancement in
a non-vegetated lab-scale SSF CW for wastewater treatment.
The experimental wetland system had a nitrification zone and
a sulfur/limestone (S/L) autotrophic denitrification zone, followed by an anaerobic polishing zone. The S/L autotrophic
denitrification contributed 21e49% of the total NO-3-N removal
across the whole wetland and 50e95% across the S/L column.
The position of the S/L column was changed (1.78, 2.24, and
2.69 m from the inlet), and no remarkable difference in N
removal was observed (Bezbaruah and Zhang, 2003). However,
without the S/L column, the total inorganic N removal
decreased from approximately 88e92e74% and the effluent
NO
3 eN increased about two times (from approximately
3.56 mg/L to 4.09 mg/L to 9.13 mg/L). A concurrent sharp
decrease in NO
3 eN concentration and a sharp increase in
SO2
4 concentration immediately after the S/L column confirm
the occurrence of autotrophic denitrification in the S/L column. An insufficient supply of organic carbon may result in
high levels of nitrate or nitrites, whereas an overloading will
probably result in high concentrations of residual carbon in
the treated water. Moreover, the N2O emission in this system
would be higher than other traditional CWs, whereas no any
data reported on this issue is available. By contrast, the use of
an S/L section in a CW would promote autotrophic denitrification and does not need an organic C source. In addition, the
S/L autotrophic denitrification produces a very low amount of
biomass (Zhang, 2002); hence, the system will not be clogged
easily. Although further studies are needed, the actual location of the S/L section should be toward the end of the
after the S/L
wetland. Considering the production of SO2
4
section and the negative effect of high concentration of SO2
4
in the receiving water bodies, a gravel-filled anaerobic

49

SO2
4 -reducing bed should follow the S/L section. However,
how the gravel-filled anaerobic SO2
4 -reducing bed works
without sufficient organic carbon as electron donor for SO2
4
reduction poses another challenge.

5.
Specific soil material selection for
microbial biofilms establishment
Different substrates also influence the establishment of microbial biofilms and the microbial community structure
within complex wetland ecosystems, as well as the treatment
performance. A porous matrix, such as expanded clay, provides a greater surface area for treatment contact and biofilm
development. Calheiros et al. (2009) investigated the bacterial
communities in the CWs with different soil materials, i.e., two
types of expanded clay aggregates (FiltraliteMR3-8-FMR and
Filtralite NR3-8-FNR) and fine gravel. Higher pollutant removals in terms of COD and BOD5 were achieved in the
expanded clay planted units after a long-term operation (31
months). The similar behavior of the expanded clay systems
concerning the pollutant removal may be attributed to the fact
that they may have similar functional group of microorganisms (Calheiros et al., 2009). Li et al. (2008) examined the influence of soil material type on the removal and
transformation of DOM in experimental CWs with gravel,
zeolite, and slag. However, these materials did not show any
significant influence on the mean removal efficiency in this
study. Both, bacterial species richness and diversities
retrieved from the DGGE profiles proved that hybrid substrates
(gravel, zeolite, and slag) were suitable to bacterial survival
provided protective and favorable habitats for microorganisms through the pore size exclusion of predators.
Based on the conception of using ponds with artificial
floating plant islands, plant root mats, and wetlands for the
treatment of different contaminated waters (Van de Moortel
et al., 2010; Tanner and Headley, 2011; Chen et al., 2012),
emergent plants are used to grow not in a soil but only as a
hydroponic root mat. Densely interwoven roots provide
anchoring and stability of the plant stems against tilting (Chen
et al., 2012). Such a hydroponic root mat may either float at
elevated water level or rest on the bottom of a basin at low
water level. In the latter case, water is forced to flow through
the root filter, and the roots, such as the soil particles in
CWs, can provide a huge solid surface for the attachment of
microorganism and stimulate the formation of biofilms on
them (Seeger et al., 2013). However, only few examples exist in
the scientific literature, so that a profound comparison of this
technology variant with the commonly used soil-based CWs
must be conducted. Further research focusing on specific root
surface area for biofilms and its secretion on biofilm development should be addressed.

6.

Thermal insulation in cold climate

Although a variety of removal mechanisms, including filtration, precipitation, volatilization, adsorption, and plant uptake, have been well documented (Vymazal, 2007; Kadlec and
Wallace, 2009), the removal of most pollutants in CWs

50

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

primarily caused by microbial activity has been a cornerstone


of the technology (Faulwetter et al., 2009). The processes, such
as sedimentation and decantation, important in particulate
organic matter removal are mostly unaffected by low temperature conditions (Ouellet-Plamondon et al., 2006). However, biological processes are highly dependent on the variation
of temperatures and influence the overall performance of
wetlands on pollutant removal. Therefore, the operation at
cold climate has been perceived as a problem associated with
wetland technology (Werker et al., 2002).
From the perspective view of economic and landscape,
some scientists and engineers tried to screen and/or select
cold-resistant plants. However, from the existing research
and engineering practice, it would be quite hard for herbaceous wetland plants to stand aboveground and active in cold
winter. Finally, various woody terrestrial plants were introduced with advantages of deeper roots, stronger oxygen
transfer capacity and longer growing season, such as Salix sp.,
Alnus sp. and Ligustrum obtusifolium and so on (Wu et al.,
2011a,b; Gonzlez et al., 2001). Moreover, the psychrotrophic
bacterial populations in natural systems can acclimate to
colder temperatures. In principle, the apparent adaptation of
psychrotrophs to a wide range of temperatures indicates a
valuable potential success with wetland treatment year round
(Gow and Mills, 1984; Ying et al., 2010). However, in practice,
the pollutant removal in CWs is influenced by a complex array
of factors that are sensitive to climate (Kadlec and Wallace,
2009).
SSFCWs, as one of the main traditional types of wetlands,
have the primary advantage in colder climates, because the
water is not directly exposed to the cold atmosphere during
the treatment process. The microbial community is protected
from the frigid air, and the energy losses through evaporation
and convection are minimized (Wallace et al., 2001; Werker
et al., 2002). These features make SSFCWs more suitable for
winter and/or cold area applications. Nevertheless, the sole
use of this wetland type is inefficient because the treatment
performance in cold conditions is often not satisfactory. Thus,
varied adaptations of CW technology to sub-freezing environments have been initiated through specific design (larger
and deeper bed), natural or artificial insulation (snow, ice,
straw, rock wool, polystyrene, greenhouse, etc.), and
enhanced operation strategy (artificial aeration) (Wallace
et al., 2001; Kadlec and Wallace, 2009).
Without a fully fundamental understanding of temperature dependence, winter performance can only be accommodated by effectively applying large factors of safety
measures in design (Buchberger and Shaw, 1995). Temperature effects can be partially compensated by a higher HRT in
designed CWs, which has been reported to reduce the differences in efficiency between cold and warm periods to be less
than 10% for all parameters. Hence, the wetland system is
underutilized for a large part of the year. Moreover, the safety
factors make the design more land and investment intensive,
which often limits the scope for the wastewater treatment
applications using CWs (Werker et al., 2002). Further investigations should be enhanced first in the understanding of
pollutant removal mechanisms to seasonal and temperature
changes and subsequently in the development of CW design
models, which might help to reduce the safety factors through

the
compensation
of
seasonal
and
temperature
considerations.
The design approach using SSFCWs covered with an
insulating mulch layer has been demonstrated to prevent
freezing (Wallace et al., 2001; Mhlum and Jenssen, 2002). The
added insulation material may be supported by the soil bed
material or standing dead plants but it should be kept out of
water. A wide variety of mulch materials, including bark, pine
straw, and wood chips, have been referred for use in CWs. A
good mulch material should have the characteristics of a
fluffy structure with high-fiber content, balanced nutrient
composition, and circumneutral pH and should be substantially decomposed without any secondary organic loading of
the treatment system. Leaf litter is often suggested as one
source of insulation but its spotty in distribution often allows
heat to escape (Wallace et al., 2001). Even small breaches in
the insulation of CWs are reported to result in substantial heat
losses in flowing water. Straw and blankets can be used to
supplement the standing dead plant material. To be effective,
Wallace et al. (2001) also suggested that insulation must be
uniform in coverage, which requires it to be designed as an
integral part of the wetland system. Wu et al. (2011a,b)
developed an integrated household CW with an integral
insulating layer of 15 cm wood chips. This insulating layer
kept the temperature of the household wetland bed at above
6  C from freezing at air temperatures to 8  C, which guaranteed a good performance of pollutant removal in winter as
in summer.
The wetland configurations that allow greater air movement within the bed have also been reported to intensity the
removal of contaminants in cold climates (Kadlec and
Wallace, 2009). This characteristic might be attributed to the
adequate oxygen supply and resultant higher microbial activity under greater air flux. N removal is believed to be
temperature-dependent in CWs, which often stops at a temperature of below 6  C. Moreover, the contribution of artificial
aeration on pollutant removal in winter has been tested, with
a combination of planted, unplanted, aerated, and nonaerated mesocosms for treating a reconstituted fish-farm
effluent (Ouellet-Plamondon et al., 2006). Artificial aeration
improves the TKN removal in both unplanted and planted
units in winter, but the additional aeration does not fully
compensate the absence of plants. This result suggests that
the role of plants is beyond the sole addition of oxygen into the
rhizosphere. However, the aeration has been demonstrated to
positively influence the root morphology of wetland vegetation and the resultant changes in redox potential (OuelletPlamondon et al., 2006).
Considering the special challenges presented in CWs for
wastewater treatment in extreme frigid climate, a full-scale
greenhouse-structured wetland system has been investigated for the evaluation of the contaminant removal efficiency and its economic and social values (Gao and Hu, 2012).
The temperature of wastewater in the wetland bed was always 8  C or higher, even the minimum ambient air temperature decreased to 30  C. The construction of greenhouse for
the insulation in winter increased the investment costs.
However, some ornamental plants grown in this greenhouse
wetland and compensated certain amount of the costs by
selling the flowers.

w a t e r r e s e a r c h 5 7 ( 2 0 1 4 ) 4 0 e5 5

7.

Conclusions

The intensified removal of organic matter and nitrogen in


CWs is generally directly and/or indirectly influenced by many
factors, including the temperature, soil material types, operation strategies, and redox conditions in the wetland bed. The
present knowledge can be summarized as follows:
(1) The use of recirculation to enhance the removal performance in CWs depends on many factors, including
CW types and influent loads. In most vertical-flow and
integrated CWs, the effluent recirculation enhances the
interactions between pollutants and microorganisms,
which results in positive effects on the treatment performance, particularly on the effective removal of TN.
However, more energy for pumping is needed. In
horizontal-flow CWs with saturated conditions, effluent
recirculation may cause problems given the increased
hydraulic loading rates.
(2) To overcome oxygen transfer limitations in traditional
CWs, some additional measures that involve energy inputs to CWs have been developed, such as artificial
aeration and tidal operation. These technologies can
certainly increase the oxygenation capacity of CWs and
obtain a better treatment performance but also increase
the operation and maintenance costs. These innovations are only justified when the lifecycle cost is
sufficiently offset by the reduction in the capital cost, i.e.,
the net savings of reduced wetland size are less than the
costs of the aeration equipment and maintenance.
(3) Clogging is a common problem during the lifespan of
subsurface CWs, and proper pre-treatments have
already been regulated. The flow direction reciprocation
and earthworm integration have been shown effective
to help to decrease the accumulation of solids in CWs.
However, earthworms are soil-based living creatures.
Gravel, as the most used soil material in horizontal flow
CWs, may not be suitable for earthworm movements.
The addition of organic substrates in bed has been
proposed, but the relationship between the degradation
of organic substrates and additional organic compound
production and the transfer into the effluents should be
carefully considered.
(4) Bioaugmentation can be used to accelerate the development of necessary microbial community and shorten
the adaptation period. However, aiming at intensifying
the degradation of some specific recalcitrant pollutants
of industrial wastewaters in CWs, bioaugmentation can
be a strategy similar to traditional wastewater treatment technologies.
(5) The innovation of the configurations in CWs for performance intensifications, including the circular-flow
corridor, towery hybrid, and baffled subsurface flow
CWs, are versatile. Regarding the energy input for a
gravity-driven water flow, pumping the water on a
necessary higher level should be considered. Electrical
power generation has been initiated in an integrated
MFC CW, but its full-scale application remains facing
many challenges or may not be expected in near future.

51

(6) To treat low C/N ratio wastewaters, such as nitrate-rich


agricultural runoff and polluted groundwater, the carbon source only from the root exudates of macrophytes is
not sufficient to maintain a high performance of nitrate
removal. Denitrification can be enhanced by the external
supply of electron donors via direct organic carbon addition using organic filtration media and/or step feeding
operation. However, the potential secondary pollution
should be considered. The promotion of autotrophic
denitrification, especially via the pathway of microbial
anammox, could be a potential promising strategy.
(7) The operation of CWs at cold climate is a challenge.
Various adaptations are initiated through specific
design (larger and deeper bed), natural or artificial
thermal insulation (snow, ice, straw, rock wool, polystyrene, greenhouse, etc.), and enhanced operation
strategy (artificial aeration). In extreme frigid climate,
greenhouse-structured wetland systems can be further
discussed but increased investment costs have to be
considered.
(8) The multidisciplinary collaboration between engineers
and natural scientists will certainly inspire further
innovative ideas in the development of intensified CWs,
but the resilience and sustainability of these new
technologies have to be thoroughly evaluated.

Acknowledgments
This work was supported by the grants from The China
National Natural Science Fund (51308536), Chinese Universities Scientific Fund (2013XJ003), and the Sino-Danish Center
for Education and Research. We greatly appreciate the critical
and constructive comments from the anonymous reviewers,
which helped to improve this manuscript.

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