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Developing innovative microbial reactors to reduce the environmental impact of water and wastewater treatment PhD

   School of Water, Energy and Environment (SWEE)

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  Dr G Dotro  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Water is essential for life. In the UK, water utilities are tasked with ensuring water is safe to consume and, once used, collect it, treat it and return it safely to the environment. Treatment is required for achieving the right quality for drinking water and wastewater management. In many processes, iron salts are used to assist, which is typically only used once and then disposed of as waste. With the ambition of reducing the environmental impact of necessary human activities, the timing is now for innovative solutions to reducing waste in the water industry. This PhD project is a perfect opportunity to contribute to this, by harnessing the power of microbiology for recovering iron salts. Sponsored by four water utilities, the student will combine exciting pioneering applied research with rapid real-world impact.

The production of potable water is heavily dependent on chemical use with the UK currently using 325,000 tonnes of coagulant and producing 182,000 tonnes of sludge each year at a cost of £41m and £8.1m, respectively. Wastewater treatment also uses coagulants for enhanced treatment, with changing legislation increasing the use of coagulants to beyond that used in drinking water for the first time. Currently both use the fresh coagulant once before disposal. Coagulant recovery is therefore a much-coveted target to help reduce water bills whilst minimise the vulnerabilities associated with the sourcing of the coagulant and reducing the environmental footprint of the water industry. Work to date has been based on chemical recovery processes, which can have prohibitive financial and environmental costs. This PhD opportunity postulates that recovery can be made sustainable using engineered bioreactors that deliver an output that is both plausible and viable with reuse applications and the circular economy.  

This project aims to understand, improve and accelerate the use of microorganisms for iron-based coagulant recovery. The work will explore the conditions under which specific organisms can naturally cycle iron from waste into a recoverable product for reuse within the industry, and propose ways to optimise this. As such, the ideal candidate will have a strong background in either microbiology or an engineering discipline, and a desire to apply it for a tangible environmental benefit. The work will be primarily in the laboratory, with frequent contact and opportunities for intellectual discussions with the expert team within Cranfield Water. The project is co-sponsored by EPSRC and four water utilities, illustrating the applied science components as well as the real-world impact of the expected results. There will be opportunities to disseminate the research findings at both academic conferences and industrial networking events. The multiple skills needed to deliver this work will be developed through hands-on training, elective modules and mentoring, depending on the candidate’s first degree and post-graduation ambitions. 

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline. This project would particularly suit microbiologists, engineers from chemical or environmental backgrounds, and environmental scientists.


Sponsored by EPSRC, Cranfield University, Welsh Water, Thames Water, United Utilities and Scottish Water, this studentship will provide a bursary of up to £18,500 (tax free) plus fees* for three years. 

*To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be a UK national. We require that applicants are under no restrictions regarding how long they can stay in the UK i.e. have no visa restrictions or applicant has “settled status” and has been “ordinarily resident” in the UK for 3 years prior to start of studies and has not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. 

Our Values 

Our shared, stated values help to define who we are and underpin everything we do: Ambition; Impact; Respect; and Community. Find out more here. We aim to create and maintain a culture in which everyone can work and study together and realise their full potential.  

Diversity and Inclusion

As an inclusive and diverse doctoral centre, we welcome applications from all highly motivated individuals, regardless of background, identity or disability.

How to apply

For further information please contact: 

Name:  Dr Gabriela Dotro Email: [Email Address Removed]

If you are eligible to apply for the PhD, please complete the online PhD application form stating the reference No. SWEE0189

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