• Anaerobic–aerobic treatment;
  • Denitrification;
  • Immobilized biomass;
  • Nitrification


This study reports the performance of a combined anaerobic–aerobic packed-bed reactor that can be used to treat domestic sewage. Initially, a bench-scale reactor was operated in three experimental phases. In the first phase, the anaerobic reactor was operated with an average organic matter removal efficiency of 77% for a hydraulic retention time (HRT) of 10 h. In the second phase, the reactor was operated with an anaerobic stage followed by an aerobic zone, resulting in a mean value of 91% efficiency. In the third and final phase, the anaerobic–aerobic reactor was operated with recirculation of the effluent of the reactor through the anaerobic zone. The system yielded mean total nitrogen removal percentages of 65 and 75% for recycle ratios (r) of 0.5 and 1.5, respectively, and the chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal efficiencies were higher than 90%. When the pilot-scale reactor was operated with an HRT of 12 h and r values of 1.5 and 3.0, its performance was similar to that observed in the bench-scale unit (92% COD removal for r = 3.0). However, the nitrogen removal was lower (55% N removal for r = 3.0) due to problems with the hydrodynamics in the aerobic zone. The anaerobic–aerobic fixed-bed reactor with recirculation of the liquid phase allows for concomitant carbon and nitrogen removal without adding an exogenous source of electron donors and without requiring any additional alkalinity supplementation.