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Optimising Algal Growth for Industrial Waste Treatment and Conversion into Bio-Products


Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering

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Dr J Pandhal No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project has three components i) Design an algal-bacterial consortium able to degrade a specific industrial waste stream ii) Optimise growth and treatment rates iii) investigate conversion of biomass into bio-products

This project aims to identify/isolate microbial consortia of algae and bacteria suitable for remediation, and subsequently cultivate, characterise and optimise their efficiency in appropriate bioreactors. The project is in collaboration with industry and therefore will involve investigating real samples with the aim to develop real-life solutions. Microalgae are a diverse group of photosynthetic microorganisms that are currently exploited for generating a range of useful products within several industries e.g. food, nutraceutical, bioplastics and cosmetics. One key aspect is the ability of strains to be able to grow in manmade waste streams. This means microalgae can effectively clean up potentially eco-toxic wastes whilst simultaneously generating useful products.

Challenges will be to optimise the microbial consortium to efficiently undertake the process, understanding the importance of the interactive mechanisms within microorganisms to ensure stability, as well as effective delivery of the components from the waste gas to liquid phase to ensure high rates of toxic component degradation.

The project is in collaboration with Freeland Horticulture Limited. Freeland Horticulture Ltd is principally a soil blending organisation providing sandy loam soils to urban developments, including a number of high-profile projects including the Olympic park and Canary Wharf in London, the Eden project etc. They supplied 750 km3 of soils last year hoping to expand to 18 operational sites supplying 1 million m3 by end of 2019. They purchase approximately 50,000 tonnes of compost increasing year by year. They are now also a composter themselves with a local site in Doncaster (treatment of ~70,000 tonnes of green waste per annum) and Cardiff (treating 25,000 tonnes) with plans to increase coverage throughout the country. They currently have large reserves of woody and plastic material with plans to combust it for CO2 and heat production, which can be further utilized in downstream operations. The material also produces toxic gases limiting their downstream use.

This project aims to engineer a synthetic microbial consortium for industrial waste treatment, whilst generating algal biomass which can be used as a resource. The student will interact with local business leaders, architects and urban air quality researchers to apply similar methodologies with algae-bacteria consortia design to target urban air pollution.

The successful candidate will receive training in algal biotechnology, experimental design and analytical analyses. The project would suit engineers with a strong interest in biological processes or a bioscience graduate with a strong interest in engineering biology.

The student will be enrolled into training with the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures. The Centre focuses on advancing sustainability research and connecting it with the policy debate around how humans can live in a more sustainable way grantham.sheffield.ac.uk. The unique training programme is designed to equip students with the skills to become policy advocates and leaders in sustainability matters, including aspects of public engagement, leadership and action.

Biological engineering is one of the fastest growing employment sectors and many of our PhD graduates have found employment in the analytical field through to research and development in biotechnology, biopharmaceutical and bioanalytical industries. This project is with an industrial partner, Freeland Horticulture Ltd. and therefore the student will be exposed to commercially focussed co-supervision.

The project supervisor currently leads a group of 9 PhD students, 1 PDRA and a laboratory technician, with access to microbiology growth facilities, photobioreactors (1 L to 300 L) as well as cutting-edge analytical equipment including LC-MS/MS and GC-MS.

Please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h51Pw_7kZJw for a video our recent research and www.pandhalresearchgroup.co.uk for the group web site.

Funding Notes

Applicants should be UK/Home status and have a First Class or Upper Second Class Honours degree in an engineering degree (e.g. chemical engineering, biological engineering, environmental engineering etc.) or relevant biological degree with good mathematical skills (quantitative biology, microbiology etc.). Working knowledge at the interface of chemistry and biology, and bioreactor design would be desirable but not essential.

Please contact Dr Pandhal via [Email Address Removed] if unsure about qualifications for this project or for further details.

Funding is for UK/Home applicants only.
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