In our previous papers we have demonstrated that biofilm structure never reaches a steady state in biofilm reactors; in this paper we link this fact to biofilm detachment and to the oscillating pattern of biofilm accumulation. In one respect reactors supporting suspended microbial growth and reactors supporting attached microbial growth (biofilms) are similar: in both the biomass accumulates in the reactor and is disposed of with the effluent. However, while in reactors with suspended microbial growth biomass accumulation and disposal occur simultaneously, in biofilm reactors these two processes are separated in time. Biomass accumulation in biofilm reactors shows a distinct pattern composed of three phases: (1) growth, (2) detachment, (3) regrowth. Despite this distinct pattern of biofilm accumulation observed at the microscale, biofilm reactors do reach a steady state of substrate removal.

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