Activated sludge wastewater treatment plant modelling and simulation: state of the art

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This review paper focuses on modelling of wastewater treatment plants (WWTP). White-box modelling is widely applied in this field, with learning, design and process optimisation as the main applications. The introduction of the ASM model family by the IWA task group was of great importance, providing researchers and practitioners with a standardised. set of basis models. This paper introduces the nowadays most frequently used white-box models for description of biological nitrogen and phosphorus removal activated sludge processes. These models are mainly applicable to municipal wastewater systems, but can be adapted easily to specific situations such as the presence of industrial wastewater. Some of the main model assumptions are highlighted, and their implications for practical model application are discussed. A step-wise procedure leads from the model purpose definition to a calibrated WWTP model. Important steps in the procedure are: model purpose definition, model selection, data collection, data reconciliation, calibration of the model parameters and model unfalsification. The model purpose, defined at the beginning of the procedure, influences the model selection, the data collection and the model calibration. In the model calibration a process engineering approach. i.e. based on understanding of the process and the model structure, is needed. A calibrated WWTP model, the result of an iterative procedure, can usually be obtained by only modifying few model parameters, using the default parameter sets as a starting point. Black-box, stochastic grey-box and hybrid models are useful in WWTP applications for prediction of the influent load, for estimation of biomass activities and effluent quality parameters. These modelling methodologies thus complement the process knowledge included in white-box models with predictions based on data in areas where the white-box model assumptions are not valid or where white-box models do not provide accurate predictions. Artificial intelligence (Al) covers a large spectrum of methods. and many of them have been applied in applications related to WWTPs. Al methodologies and white-box models can interact in many ways; supervisory control systems for VvWTPs are one evident application. Modular agent-based systems combining several Al and modelling methods provide a great potential. In these systems, Al methods on one hand can maximise the knowledge extracted from data and operator experience, and subsequently apply this knowledge to improve WWTP control. White-box models on the other hand allow evaluating scenarios based on the available process knowledge about the WWTP. A white-box model calibration tool, an Al based WWTP design tool and a knowledge representation tool in the WWTP domain are other potential applications where fruitful interactions between Al methods and white-box models could be developed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Modelling & Software
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)763-783
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Activated sludge
  • Wastewater treatment plant
  • Modelling

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