Agent-based models (ABMs) simulate individual units within a system, such as the bacteria in a biological wastewater treatment system. This paper outlines past, current and potential future applications of ABMs to wastewater treatment. ABMs track heterogeneities within microbial populations, and this has been demonstrated to yield different predictions of bulk behaviors than the conventional, “lumped” approaches for enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) completely mixed reactors systems. Current work included the application of the ABM approach to bacterial adaptation/evolution, using the model system of individual EBPR bacteria that are allowed to evolve a kinetic parameter (maximum glycogen storage) in a competitive environment. The ABM approach was successfully implemented to a simple anaerobic-aerobic system and it was found the differing initial states converged to the same optimal solution under uncertain hydraulic residence times associated with completely mixed hydraulics. In another study, an ABM was developed and applied to simulate the heterogeneity in intracellular polymer storage compounds, including polyphosphate (PP), in functional microbial populations in enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) process. The simulation results were compared to the experimental measurements of single-cell abundance of PP in polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs), performed using Raman microscopy. The model-predicted heterogeneity was generally consistent with observations, and it was used to investigate the relative contribution of external (different life histories) and internal (biological) mechanisms leading to heterogeneity. In the future, ABMs could be combined with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models to understand incomplete mixing, more intracellular states and mechanisms can be incorporated, and additional experimental verification is needed.
Keywords: agent-based modelling, cellular automata, distributed states, enhanced biological phosphorus removal, heterogeneity, intracellular polymer, Raman microscopy, wastewater treatment