University of East Anglia Featured PhD Programmes
University of Southampton Featured PhD Programmes
University College London Featured PhD Programmes

Artificial microbial photosynthesis: development of biohybrid systems to produce solar chemicals and fuels from waste-carbon (Ref: ET20/HLS/APP/BLACK2)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, May 08, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Solar energy is the most abundant energy source and can act as a green and sustainable energy supply. It is worth noting that one-hour sunlight can satisfy the one-year energy demand of the entire world. Artificial microbial photosynthesis is a novel strategy to produce value-added products from sunlight, microbes and CO2. The artificial photosynthetic system works by mimicking natural photosynthetic bio-machineries which can exceed the efficiency of natural photosynthesis. Light-harvesting materials and microbes are the essential components of this photo-biohybrid system. The proposed project tackles the largely unexplored challenge to develop highly efficient light-harvesting materials to maximize solar biofuel production through the innovative biohybrid system. The photo-electron activity of the microbes on the light-harvesting materials is fascinating as the materials can behave like electron sinks. Also, the proposed project will design a unique combination of photo-biohybrid system and fermentation process to produce medium-chain fatty acids (e.g. butyric acid) starting from CO2. In addition, the proposed design can make other exciting products such as medium-chain alcohols (e.g. butanol) by just tuning the microbial strains. The project will employ isotopic experiments, advanced spectroscopic techniques and OMIC tools to track the fundamental insights involved in the artificial microbial photosynthesis.

The following key skills will be gained during this project.
1. Microbiology: culturing of anaerobic microorganisms, microbial syntrophy, direct interspecies electron transfer, protein nanowires, protein extraction, RNA/DNA extraction, differential gene expression analysis
2. Materials Synthesis: semiconductors, quantum dots, 3D materials
3. Materials characterisation: electron microscopy, AFM, XPS, XRD, Raman
4. Analytical: GC, IC, HPLC, NMR
5. Reactor design: 3D printing
6. Electrochemical techniques: CV, DPV, LSV, chronoamperometry, EIS

We are looking to appoint a highly motivated PhD student to join the world’s first Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE, This is a £8M initiative between Northumbria and Newcastle Universities funded by Research England. The Hub will develop biotechnologies to create a new generation of buildings which are responsive to their environment, grown using engineered living materials, metabolise their own waste, and modulate their microbiome to benefit human health. The Hub is a strategic expansion that will soon including 13 new academic staff, including Biologists, Architectural Designers and Engineers, supported by 5 PDRAs, 14 PhD students and 3 support staff. This will include 3 new research facilities that will integrate our research: the Micro Bio-Design Lab (Northumbria), the Macro Bio-Design Lab (Newcastle) and a unique Experimental ‘Living’ House, ‘The OME’.

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications should include a covering letter that includes a short summary (500 words max.) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed and the reasons you consider yourself suited to the project. Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. ET20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 8th May 2020
Start Date: 1st Aug 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Shafeer Kalathil ()

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home and EU students with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/21, this is £15,285 pa) and full Home/ EU Fees.


1. X. Fang*, S. Kalathil*, G. Divitini, Q. Wang and E. Reisner, A three-dimensional hybrid electrode with electroactive microbes for efficient electrogenesis and chemical synthesis, Proceedings of National Academy of Science USA, 2020, (*Equally contributed)

2. S. Kalathil, K. P. Katuri, A. S. Alazmi, S. Pedireddy, N. Korneinko, P. M. F. J. Costa, and P. E. Saikaly, Bioinspired synthesis of reduced graphene oxide wrapped Geobacter sulfurreducens as a hybrid electrocatalyst for efficient oxygen evolution reaction, Chemistry of Materials, 2019, 31, 3686

3. K. P. Katuri*, S. Kalathil*, A. Ragab, B. Bian, M. F. Alqahtani, D. Pant, and P. E. Saikaly, Dual‐function electrocatalytic and macroporous hollow‐fiber cathode for converting waste Streams to valuable resources using microbial electrochemical systems, Advanced Materials, 2019, 30, 1707072 (* Equally contributed)

4. S. Kalathil* and D. Pant, Nanotechnology to rescue bacterial bidirectional extracellular electron transfer in bio-electrochemical systems, RSC Advances 2016, 6, 30582 (*Corresponding author)

5. N. Heidary, N. Kornienko, S. Kalathil, X. Fang, K. H. Ly, H. F. Greer, and E. Reisner, Disparity of cytochrome utilization in anodic and cathodic extracellular electron transfer pathways of Geobacter sulfurreducens biofilms, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2020,

6. S. Kalathil, S. A. Patil, and D. Pant, Microbial fuel cells: Electrode materials, Encyclopedia of Interfacial Chemistry, 2018, 309-318,

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2020
All rights reserved.