Biological scrubbers aim at reducing gaseous ammonia emissions by transferring it to a water phase followed by conversion to nitrite and nitrate. A small part of the removed nitrogen may be emitted as N2 and N2O produced as a result of denitrification processes. Due to the large greenhouse warming potential of N2O, even a small emission could be a point of concern. Determining these N losses in form of N2 and N2O via nitrogen balance is an alternative, but little is known about the uncertainty associated to this method. The main aim of this work was to develop an uncertainty model that evaluated N-balances in biological scrubbers in terms of result uncertainty. Secondary objectives were to provide a methodology to determine individual uncertainties involved, and to conduct a sensitivity analysis to identify the main contributors to the final uncertainty. For a defined scenario (biotrickling scrubber, 70% NH3 removal; 5% of inlet N-NH3 lost as N2 and N2O), the standard uncertainty expressed in relative terms of the average was 132% (released N in form of N2 and N2O). Main contributors to the final uncertainty were airflow rate and water volume in the scrubber basin. Uncertainty of the measurements of gaseous NH3 concentrations and N compounds in water had a reduced effect on the final uncertainty. Based on these results, N balances are not recommended to evaluate N2 and N2O formation in biological scrubbers, at least for the conditions considered in this work.
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