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Applied biotechnology to enhance resilience of wastewater treatment plants PhD


   School of Water, Energy and Environment (SWEE)


Bedford United Kingdom Aerospace Engineering Chemical Engineering Energy Technologies Environmental Engineering Mechanical Engineering Nanotechnology Petroleum Engineering

About the Project

A PhD project at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (WIRe)

This exciting fully funded PhD, with an enhanced stipend of £19,000 per annum, will deliver feasible options to convert the dissolved methane to carbon dioxide or short chain fatty acids using a range of biological processes, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment. This is of special relevance in the application of anaerobic processes producing biogas but with limited opportunities for converting it into energy. Greenhouse gas emissions abatement from anaerobic processes is key to achieving NET-ZERO targets. This project will help inform operational mitigations and investment decisions to be made by Water Industry.

Municipal wastewater treatment facilities are being proposed as resource recovery and water recycling centres. The latest technology developments focus treating wastewater to very high standards whilst promoting the recovery of resources (e.g.: water, nutrients, biogas, etc). In this context, mainstream anaerobic wastewater treatment, is a good value proposition, with low energy demand (<0.03 kwh/m3), low maintenance, limited sludge production, in a simple process. The implementation of anaerobic reactors in small wastewater treatment plants and in decentralised systems is being demonstrated in the UK. Nevertheless, in this climate, the methane produced is mainly found dissolved in the wastewater, as much as 90%, at operating temperatures of 10°c. If not recovered, this methane will exit the anaerobic reactor with the treated effluent resulting in high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This project investigates options to convert the dissolved methane to carbon dioxide or short chain fatty acids (SCFA) and reduce GHG. Such an approach will effectively align anaerobic wastewater treatment with NET-ZERO targets and SCFA are valuable chemicals that can be used to produce a range of added value products. Furthermore, this opens an opportunity to increase the effluent quality from anaerobic processes, by promoting increased nutrient, solids and carbon removal.

The aims of this project are to 1) to investigate a range of processes (i.e.: membrane biofilm reactor, moving bed biofilm reactor and biochar biofilm reactor) at lab-scale for their potential to convert dissolved methane to carbon dioxide or short chain fatty acids and polish effluent from anaerobic reactors; 2) Design and operation of the selected pilot-scale process and 3) develop a business case. This PhD project is expected to advance the scientific understanding of the role and concentrations of electron acceptors in biological anaerobic methane oxidation.

The project is an exciting collaboration between Cranfield University and three of the most ambitious and advanced Water Utilities in the UK: Severn Trent, Scottish Water and Thames Water. The UK Water Industry aims to be NET ZERO by 2030, in only 10 years’ time! To achieve NET ZERO the utilities will have to balance amount of GHG produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. The industry has been working on reducing GHG for quite some time now and emissions have been decreasing by 43% since 2011. To secure the resilience of anaerobic processes, as well as the future infrastructure needs of the UK water Industry, the development, testing and implementation of technologies that enable GHG management as well as resource recovery in anaerobic treatment is critical. This project will require fundamental science to be able to develop strategies for future investment to increase the resilience of our wastewater treatment.

The successful applicant will make use of the UKCRIC National Research Facility for Water and Wastewater Treatment at Cranfield University to translate the lab results to full-scale.

Additionally, as part of the CDT WIRe, students will benefit from an enhanced stipend of £19,000 per annum, undertake an international placement, and complete a bespoke training programme within a cohort of up to 15 students.

At the end of the project the successful applicant will be very well positioned to have a highly successful career in the water sector or in an academic role. We will help you develop into a dynamic, confident and highly competent researcher with wider transferable skills (communication, project management and leadership) with an international network of colleagues.

How the apply

To apply, please follow this link and click “Apply now”.

For general enquiries about this position, including help applying, terms and conditions, etc, please contact: , quoting reference number SWEE0140.


Funding Notes

Sponsored by EPSRC and industrial partners (Severn Trent, Thames Water, Scottish Water), this studentship will provide a bursary of £19,000 per year with fees paid. All training and placement (overseas/industry) costs will also be covered, subject to supervisor approval.
The studentship is open to UK and international students (including EU countries) however due to funding rules, no more than 30% of the projects in this cohort can be allocated to international students.

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