Team MERE

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Section: Overall Objectives

Microbial ecology for environmental preservation

Biological WasteWater Treatment Plants (WWTP) are used to transform organic compounds present in wastewater in soluble form (also called substrates) into solids (micro-organisms or biomass also called sludge). In more general terms, such a system where micro-organisms are used to transform substrates into others is called a bioreactor. In the context of wastewater treatment, substrates are consumed by the biomasses under adequate environmental conditions. Once the substrate concentrations have reached normative constraints, the solids (the biomass) and the clean water are separated: the liquid is rejected to the natural environment while the sludge is either incinerated, used in agriculture or, until recently, stored in wetlands. The treatment industry can be considered as the first industry in terms of matter to be processed. Therefore, the design, the control and in more general terms, the optimization of treatment processes are real challenges. Our objective is to better understand these processes in order to optimize their functioning in the presence of uncertainties and of unknown and unmeasured external disturbances. To do so,

  1. we approach the problems at two levels: the microscopic scale (the micro-organism) and the macroscopic one (the plant),

  2. we use macroscopic modeling and control system science tools to develop new design rules, estimation techniques and control systems that we calibrate on real biological pilot plants.

Our methodology consists in the development of mathematical models of the biological reactions and transports in the reactor. At this stage, we have very strong interactions with micro-biologists. After that we analyze the model with the available mathematical tools or/and through computer simulations. Our main emphasis is put on the effects of the spatial distribution of the biomass. This questioning can be understood at various scales.

We are interested in fundamental questions of microbial ecology, like biodiversity of biomasses, competition and predation since they are at the roots of the understanding of biological wastewater treatment and, at the same time we address very practical questions like the minimization of the size of the bioreactors.


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