Nitrification is an aerobic process carried out by a series of bacterial population that sequentially oxidize ammonium (NH4+) and organic nitrogen to nitrate (NO3-) with intermediate formation of nitrite (NO2-). The first step of nitrification is carried out by bacteria called nitrosomonas : 2NH4+ + 3O2 -> 2NO2- + 4H+ + 2H2O. The second step is carried out by nitrobacter bacteria: 2NO2-+O2 -> 2NO3-. The two steps can also be described in a single reaction: NH4+ + 2O2 -> NO3- + H2O + H+. Once nitrate has formed, the wastewater can undergo a denitrification process in order to reduce nitrate to nitrogen gas, that is released into the atmosphere. Since complete nitrification is a sequential reaction treatment process, systems must be designed to provide an environment suitable for the growth of both groups of nitrifying bacteria.

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