Increasing the fertilizer value of palm oil mill sludge: bioaugmentation in nitrification
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Malaysia is essentially an agricultural country and her major polluting effluents have been from agro-based industries of which palm oil and rubber industries together contribute about 80% of the industrial pollution. Palm oil sludge, commonly referred to, as palm oil mill effluent (POME) is brown slurry composed of 4-5% solids, mainly organic, 0.5-1% residual oil, and about 95% water. The effluent also contains high concentrations of organic nitrogen. The technique for the treatment of POME is basically biological, consisting of pond systems, where the organic nitrogen is converted to ammonia, which is subsequently transformed to nitrate, in a process called nitrification. A 15-month monitoring program of a pond system (combined anaerobic, facultative, and aerobic ponds in series) confirmed studies by other authors and POME operators that nitrification in a pond system demands relatively long hydraulic retention time (HRT), which is not easily achieved, due to high production capacity of most factories. Bioaugmentation of POME with mixed culture of nitrifiers (ammonia and nitrite oxidizers) has been identified as an effective tool not only for enhancing nitrification of POME but also for improving quality of POME as source of liquid nitrogen fertilizer for use in the agricultural sector, especially in oil palm plantations. Nitrate is readily absorbable by most plants, although some plants are able to absorb nitrogen in the form of ammoniun. In this study, up to 60% reduction in HRT (or up to 20% reduction in potential land requirement) was achieved when bioaugmentation of POME was carried out with the aim of achieving full nitrification.