Microbial population control for sustainable wastewater treatment



The overall goal of this PhD research project is to study the interaction between the microbial community structure and the applied control strategies in sustainable wastewater treatment processes. Two applications are considered: (1) innovative nitrogen removal processes based on ammonium oxidation to nitrite and (2) anaerobic digestion for hydrogen production. These processes bear a close resemblance from a process engineering perspective. Their application in biofilm reactors will be studied through dynamic (time-varying) 1-dimensional (considering spatial gradients in one direction) models.

Graphical abstract Thomas Vannecke

Research objectives

  • the incorporation of detailed microbial diversity and competition in 1-dimensional biofilm models
  • the use of these models to gain insight in the influence of process conditions on microbial competition
  • the development of efficient control strategies to ensure stable, long-term production of process intermediates (nitrite or hydrogen) through microbial population optimization


Modelling and simulation


wastewater treatment, anaerobic digestion, biological nitrogen removal, biofilm reactors, microbial diversity, modelling, simulation, process control

Project administration

Researcher: Thomas Vannecke

Funding: Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), UGent Special Research Fund

Project duration: 01.10.2011 - 30.09.2015