MBR technology is currently challenging traditional wastewater treatment systems and is increasingly selected for WWTP upgrading. MBR systems typically are constructed on a smaller footprint, and provide superior treated water quality. However, the main drawback of MBR technology is that the permeability of membranes declines during filtration due to membrane fouling, which for a large part causes the high aeration requirements of an MBR to counteract this fouling phenomenon. Due to the complex and still unknown mechanisms of membrane fouling it is neither possible to describe clearly its development by means of a deterministic model, nor to control it with a purely mathematical law. Consequently the majority of MBR applications are controlled in an “open-loop” way i.e. with predefined and fixed air scour and filtration/relaxation or backwashing cycles, and scheduled inline or offline chemical cleaning as a preventive measure, without taking into account the real needs of membrane cleaning based on its filtration performance. However, existing theoretical and empirical knowledge about potential cause-effect relations between a number of factors (influent characteristics, biomass characteristics and operational conditions) and MBR operation can be used to build a knowledge-based decision support system (KB-DSS) for the automatic control of MBRs. This KB-DSS contains a knowledge-based control module, which, based on real time comparison of the current permeability trend with “reference trends”, aims at optimizing the operation and energy costs and decreasing fouling rates. In practice the automatic control system proposed regulates the set points of the key operational variables controlled in MBR systems (permeate flux, relaxation and backwash times, backwash flows and times, aeration flow rates, chemical cleaning frequency, waste sludge flow rate and recycle flow rates) and identifies its optimal value. This paper describes the concepts and the 3-level architecture of the knowledge-based DSS and details the knowledge-based control module. Preliminary results of the application of the control module to regulate the air flow rate of an MBR working with variable flux demonstrates the usefulness of this approach.

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