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Microbial population control in biofilm reactors for sustainable nitrogen removal from wastewater


In the search of improving the sustainability of nitrogen removal from wastewater, techniques that convert ammonium to nitrite only (i.e. the so-called nitritation reaction) and prevent further oxidation of nitrite to nitrate, have been denoted for quite a while as very promising. The nitritation step forms the key part of innovative sustainable nitrogen removal processes, that result in lower oxygen energy requirements, less or no need for external carbon dosage, at the same time minimizing sludge product ion and CO2 emissions, compared to conventional nitrification-denitrification over nitrate. For this reason, this project will focus on the nitritation reaction and more specifically, on establishing stable nitrite formation in a stable and sustainable way, not only in the short term but also over long time periods.

Different possible control approaches for the nitritation step will be investigated. Because of their distinct advantages, biofilm reactors have been selected for the development and implementation of control strategies. Although the application of control strategies for sustainable N-removal processes in biofilm reactors is a largely unexplored area, it will become very soon a key issue as biofilm applications are gaining more and more attention from the scientific community and the industry. But the main innovative nature of the project lies in the addition of microbial population optimisation as a new aspect to the control of the nitrogen removal processes under study.

In this way short-sighed optimisation that may have an adverse effect in the long term is avoided. Instead, the control objective consists of population dynamics management, maintaining microbial diversity to ensure a robust process on the long term. To reach this goal, a biofilm reactor model will be developed that accounts for microbial population dynamics. This model will subsequently be used for the development of control laws that can manage these dynamics.

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