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Biological pathogen removal within slow sand filters for drinking water treatment

School of Water, Energy and Environment (SWEE)

, , Monday, November 30, 2020 Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The candidate will be working with a highly interdisciplinary team to develop understanding on the biological removal of pathogens within slow sand filter biofilms. The novelty of this work is identifying the characteristics required for consistent and reliable removal of pathogens through biodegradation. This work will also provide fundamental insights into the ecology of such systems and establish a framework to engineer and monitor these conditions in the biofilm reactors.

Current production of potable water is heavily dependent on chemical use within the UK currently using 325,000 tonnes of coagulant producing ~180,000 tonnes of sludge at a combined cost of ~£50 m. However less chemical intensive or chemical free options are available. Slow sand filters (SSF) are an ancient yet effective technology which currently treats ~70% of London’s tap water. SSF are used to remediate water through reductions in turbidity, microorganisms and natural organic material in the UK, USA, Japan and Sweden. In the Netherlands, SSF are installed primary to improve the biological stability of treated water (through assimilable carbon reduction) in water distributions systems. SSF therefore help to reduce both the coagulant use and chlorine demand as part of a strategy to reduce chemical use. We posit that SSF represent an alternative path to the UK’s Prosperity Outcomes in the Water Industry. However, one big risk to this low chemical and carbon water treatment future is microbiological compliance. This project will develop fundamental science about pathogen removal mechanisms within water treatment biofilms and seek to enhance or improve this process.

This project is a unique opportunity to study applied microbiology of drinking water biofilms and aims to:

(1) Further develop a multi-parameter viability assessment of pathogen biodegradation with drinking water biofilms.
(2) Determine the impact of different meiofauna on the pathogen biodegradation rates using pure culture ingestion experiments and assessed using image cytometry and RNA sequencing.
Examine impact of i) multiple repeat ingestions, ii) presence of different meiofauna and iii) pre-exposure to catchment and treatment stressors (e.g. solar / UV radiation, reactive oxygen species) on the persistence of pathogens e.g. Cryptosporidium.
(3) Establish the link between media character, organic association, reactor operation and biofilm development on biodegradation rates of pathogens in pilot scale slow sand filters.
(4) Examine the impact of process conditions relevant to the persistence of pathogens within the SSF biofilm (e.g. sunlight, algae, dissolved oxygen, redox chemistry and organic matter content).

The results from this project will be published in top academic journals and will be disseminated through a combination of social media, mass media (newspapers and television) and international conferences. It is anticipated that results from this study will inform future strategies for full scale water treatment reactor design and operation at Thames Water.

The student will be widely engaging with a multidisciplinary team to learn advanced biofilm analysis and interact with stakeholders to disseminate the research output. The funding supports travel throughout the project to meet with the collaborators, along with opportunities to attend and present results at international conferences (e.g. Biofilm Reactors Conference; ISME; World Water Congress). Cranfield University lead the UK water and wastewater networks. A generous training budget is provided to upskill talented PhD candidates.

The student will learn next generation pathogen analysis (including image cytometry) and RNA sequencing alongside biofilm reactor design. Training will also be provided on culturing techniques (microbiology), chemical engineering calculations, statistical analysis (mathematical sciences) and specific instrumentation, as appropriate, depending on the candidate’s background, skills and interest.

This component of the PhD is within the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence. This project will maximise the benefits to the students as they progress through the course. We will aim to equip students with the skills needed for completing their PhD and their own career aspirations. This is delivered through transferable skills courses.

Start date 1st Feb 2021

Entry requirements
Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline. This project would suit students with a background in: ecology, chemical engineering, analytical chemistry, water science, environment engineering, molecular biology, microbiology or civil engineering.

For further information
please contact:
Name: Francis Hassard
T: (0) 1234 758 302

If you are eligible to apply for this studentship, please complete the online application form.

Funding Notes

Sponsored by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Thames Water Ltd, this studentship will provide a bursary of up to £18,000 (tax free)* plus tuition fees for three years, and funds for the student to attend several national and international conferences.
*To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be a UK or EU national.

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