Considering microbial and aggregate heterogeneity in biofilm reactor models: How far do we need to go?

Thomas P.W. Vannecke, George Wells, Nathalie Hubaux, Eberhard Morgenroth, Eveline I.P. Volcke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


A model describing a given system should be as simple as possible - but not simpler. The appropriate level of complexity depends both on the type of system and on the intended use of the model. This paper addresses the critical question of which purposes justify increased complexity of biofilm (reactor) models. Additional model features compared to conventional models considered are: (1) the inclusion of microbial diversity, distinguishing between different species performing the same function; and (2) the distinction between flocs and granules in putatively granular sludge reactors. With a multispecies model considering interspecies diversity, it was demonstrated that a given macroscopic reactor performance does not necessarily reflect steady state conditions on the microscale. In a second case study, it was shown that the addition of a small level of flocs can have a significant impact on macroscale process performance and on microbial population and activity distributions in granular sludge reactors. It was concluded that increased complexity in biofilm models, concerning microbial diversity or mesoscale aggregate architecture, is likely more useful when the focus is on understanding fundamental microscale outputs, but under specific conditions, these additional model features can be critically informative for bulk reactor behavior prediction and general understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1692-1699
Number of pages8
JournalWater Science and Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Biofilm reactors
  • Biological nitrogen conversion
  • Flocs
  • Granules
  • Microbial coexistence
  • Population dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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