Process models used for activated sludge, anaerobic digestion and in general wastewater treatment plant process design and optimization have traditionally focused on important biokinetic conversions. There is a growing realization that abiotic processes occurring in the wastewater (i.e. ‘solvent’) have a fundamental effect on plant performance. These processes include weak acid–base reactions (ionization), spontaneous or chemical dose-induced precipitate formation and chemical redox conversions, which influence pH, gas transfer, and directly or indirectly the biokinetic processes themselves. There is a large amount of fundamental information available (from chemical and other disciplines), which, due to its complexity and its diverse sources (originating from many different water and process environments), cannot be readily used in wastewater process design as yet. This position paper outlines the need, the methods, available knowledge and the fundamental approaches that would help to focus the effort of research groups to develop a physicochemical framework specifically in support of whole-plant process modeling. The findings are that, in general, existing models such as produced by the International Water Association for biological processes are limited by omission of key corrections such as non-ideal acid–base behavior, as well as major processes (e.g., ion precipitation). While the underlying chemistry is well understood, its applicability to wastewater applications is less well known. This justifies important further research, with both experimental and model development activities to clarify an approach to modeling of physicochemical processes.

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