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Comparative Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emission from Three Types of Constructed Wetlands

Wendong Tao*

Department of Environmental Resources Engineering, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York, 1 Forestry Dr., Syracuse, NY 13210, USA

*Corresponding Author:
Wendong Tao
Department of Environmental Resources
Engineering, College of Environmental Science
and Forestry, State University of New York
1 Forestry Dr., Syracuse, NY 13210, USA
Tel: 13154704928
Fax: 13154706958
E-mail: [email protected]

Received date: January 30, 2015; Accepted date: February 02, 2015; Published date: February 15, 2015

Citation: Tao W (2015) Comparative Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emission from Three Types of Constructed Wetlands. Forest Res 4:e116. doi:10.4172/2168-9776.1000e116

Copyright: © 2015 Tao W. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Wastewater treatment processes can produce anthropogenic greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Wastewater treatment in the U.S. emitted 17.8 Tg CO2equivalent (CO2-eq) in 2012, accounting for 0.27% of the U.S. total greenhouse gas emission and 14.3% of the total greenhouse gas emission from waste management and treatment activities (U.S. EPA, 2014). Constructed wetlands are green infrastructure for treatment of various types of wastewater. As ecologically engineered treatment systems, constructed wetlands mimic the appearance of natural wetlands (Figure 1). Constructed wetlands utilize natural processes involving macrophytes, soils or other porous media, and the associated microbial assemblages for water quality improvement. There are mainly three types of constructed wetlands [1]. Free water surface (FWS) wetlands typically consist of cells with aquatic plants, relatively impermeable rooting substrate, and shallow water. Treatment in FWS constructed wetlands occurs as water flows slowly above ground through the leaves and stems of aquatic plants. Horizontal subsurface flow (HSSF) wetlands contain beds of porous media that may have been planted with aquatic plants. Wastewater flows horizontally beneath the surface of the medium beds. Vertical flow (VF) wetlands contain beds of media that may have been planted with aquatic plants. Water is distributed over the ground surface or from the base, and flows downward or upward through the medium beds.

forest-research-Appearance-full-scale-wetlands

Figure 1: Appearance of full-scale constructed wetlands: a FWS wetland with well-established vegetation (left), a newly planted VF wetland with risers on concrete distribution pads (middle), and a HSSF wetland with planted and unplanted zones (right).

When designing a constructed wetland treatment system, wetland type is first selected in regards to several factors such as land availability, local climate, and wastewater characteristics. Sustainability has become an important consideration in wastewater treatment. Correspondingly, greenhouse gas emission from constructed wetlands has been measured in full-scale constructed wetlands in the last decade. Mander et al. [2] compared the three types of constructed wetlands in terms of CO2-C, CH4-C, and N2O-Nemission rates separately. Actually, the same mass emission rates of CO2, CH4, and N2O contribute very differently to global warming. To compare the overall effect of greenhouse gas emissions amongst different types of constructed wetlands, it is necessary to calculate CO2-eq emissions [3,4]. With inclusion of climate-carbon feedbacks in response to emissions of non-CO2 gases, the 100-year global warming potential (GWP100) is 1 for CO2, 34 for CH4, and 268 for N2O (IPCC, 2013). CO2-eq emission rate in the three types of constructed wetlands were then obtained by multiplying the emission rate of a greenhouse gas reviewed by (2) by its GWP100 as given in Equations 1-3:

CO2-eq of CO2, mg/m2/h=(CO2, mg C/m2/h) × (44/12) × 1  (1)

CO2-eq of CH4, mg/m2/h=(CH4, mg C/m2/h) × (16/12) × 34  (2)

CO2-eq of N2O, mg/m2/h=(N2O, mg N/m2/h) × (44/28) × 268  (3)

Based on emission rates of individual greenhouse gases, Mander et al., [2] concluded that CO2 emission was significantly lower in FWS constructed wetlands than in HSSF and VF constructed wetlands, CH4 emission was significantly lower in VF constructed wetlands than HSSF constructed wetlands, and that there were no significant differences in N2O emission in various wetland types. Based on the CO2-eq emission rates (Table 1), we found that:

  FWS wetland HSSF wetland VF wetland
Average Range Average Range Average Range
BOD loading, mg/m2/h 109 18.3-465 300 123-430 514 347-681
TOC loading, mg/m2/h 50.2 1.0-232 91.1 8.2-313 488 17.9-1418
CO2 emission, mg CO2-eq/m2/h 338 108-645 693 153-2079 614 466-763
CH4 emission, mg CO2-eq/m2/h 268 6.8-1224 336 2.2-793 132 14-245
N2O emission, mg CO2-eq/m2/h 55 0-274 101 0-377 59 1.3-179
Total emission, mg CO2-eq/m2/h 661   1130   805  

Table 1: Greenhouse gas emission in three types of constructed wetlandsa.

1. CO2-eq emission rate in constructed wetlands is in the order of HSSF>VF>FWS, either in terms of total or individual greenhouse gases except for CH4 that FWS>VF;

2. CO2-eq emitted from constructed wetlands is in the order of CO2>CH4>N2O for all the three types of constructed wetlands.

3. CO2 accounted for 76% of the total CO2-eq emitted from VF constructed wetlands;

4. Both CO2 and CH4 are the primary greenhouse gases emitted from FWS constructed wetlands; and

5. CO2 and CH4 accounted for 51% and 41% of total CO2-eq emitted, respectively, from HSSF constructed wetlands.

To reduce greenhouse gas emission from constructed wetlands, therefore, the efforts should be focused on CO2 and CH4 reduction rather than N2O which is produced in biological nitrogen removal processes including nitrification and denitrification. Biological removal of oxygen-demanding substances releases CO2 and CH4, with more CH4 produced under anaerobic conditions [4]. The larger CO2 and CH4 emission rates in HSSF than FWS constructed wetlands could be attributed to the higher biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total organic carbon (TOC) loading rates (Table 1). Although VF constructed wetlands have greater BOD and TOC loading rates than HSSF constructed wetlands, CH4 emission rate isobviously lower than HSSF constructed wetlands because VF constructed wetlands are designed typically for aerobic removal of organic carbon and ammonium. The slightly lower CO2 emission rate in VF than HSSF constructed wetlands could be attributed to the downward flow of effluent that absorbs and carries CO2 out.

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