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Flowing Innovation: An Engineering Design Approach for Harnessing Innovative Biotechnologies for Water Purification

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, March 31, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Existing water filtration and purification technologies are generally inefficient (removing at best 50% of pharmaceuticals), require expensive and specialized infrastructure and constant energy supply. ‘Daphne water solutions’ (DWS) is biotechnology developed by Orsini and colleagues in the School of Biosciences, that removes pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other suspended matters from wastewater and surface water. Their preliminary analyses have shown that DWS performance in removing pharmaceuticals and pesticides commonly found in municipal wastewater is significantly superior to other bacterial and algae solutions. DWS uses the active filter feeder Daphnia, a crustacean common to freshwaters worldwide.

What makes DWS so exciting is that the Daphnia can be introduced in existing wastewater treatment plants, it uses natural biological resources and uses a fraction of the resources (energy, retention time, and space) required by other existing technologies, at what is likely to be a lower cost. Furthermore, there may be additional benefits through the conversion of expired Daphnia producing fertiliser and fish feeds.

This means that the technology has the potential to be deployed in both developed and decentralised low-income communities. To bridge this gap, however, the technology will need to be engineered to meet the requirement of deployment at an industrial level. The research objectives (RO) will be to:
RO1 – determine a method for containing the Daphnia such that optimal filtration efficiency is achieved, whilst waste material can be easily removed.
RO2 – Establish a viable means of mass-producing high-quality Daphnia in a cost-effective way.
RO3 – Analyse full life cycle efficiency and determine system reliability.

This adventurous research proposes to apply novel engineering design methodologies to support the development of the DWS technology, at a component and system level such that its potential can be realised. Working closely with Dr. Dearn in Mechanical Engineering (with expertise in mechanical engineering design) and Dr. Orsini in Biosciences (the inventor of the DWS system), the student will focus on the following novel work packages:
WP1 – Individual DWS filters: the TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) & morphological engineering design methodologies will be deployed synergistically to develop a novel filtration system that simultaneously allows Daphnia to replicate and thrive while contained by the filtration system to permit the removal of waste matter. The student will also explore a means of automating this process and using the systems. Output: An effective containment method for the Daphnia within the DWS system.
WP2 – Development of effective Chemostats: The aim of this WP will be to develop a chemically static environment that permits a method of experimentally controlling Daphnia growth rate, provides a powerful means of systematically studying how growth rate impacts filtration efficiency. Output: A fully validated Chemosat.
WP3 – System reliability: In this WP a detail life cycle analysis of the industrialised DWS will be conducted. A full system reliability analysis, including Failure Mode Effect Analysis, will also be used to determine success. The components and systems developed in WPs 1&2 will be analysed using a variety of engineering techniques.

Applicants should ideally have a first-class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in Mechanical or Chemical Engineering, or a related discipline. They should have a strong interest in mechanical engineering design, including mechanical design, fluid dynamics and process control. Excellent organizational, interpersonal and communication skills, along with a stated interest in interdisciplinary research, are essential. Links with industry are highly likely.
The candidate will be expected to:
• Have an interest in knowledge exchange and developing links between academia and industry
• Develop research activities with assistance of a mentor
• Collect research data; this may be through a variety of research methods, such as scientific experimentation, literature reviews, and research interviews
• Generate, analyse and interpret data
• Disseminate research findings for publications and seminars

Funding Notes

This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.
The award comprises:

Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).

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