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PhD in Engineering - Enhanced adsorption-biodegradation processes for the removal of pesticides in drinking water in Brazil

   College of Science and Engineering

  ,  Tuesday, January 25, 2022  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Glasgow United Kingdom Environmental Biology Environmental Chemistry Environmental Engineering Pollution

About the Project

Supervisors: Dr Marta Vignola, Dr. Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay

Start September 2022

Project Description

Brazil is the world first consumer of pesticides. Runoff processes, occurring after their application to agricultural soil, actively transport these compounds into water sources and, as many of these are recalcitrant to traditional drinking water treatments (DWTs), they affect the quality and the safety of the drinking water supplied to people. Biological treatments are promising, sustainable alternatives; however, they suffer from uncertainty. A growing body of work indicates that the microbial communities that naturally establish on biofilters might develop the ability to degrade pesticides and other micropollutants. Once developed, however, these communities rarely can sustain their degradation activity and maintain their growth in the dynamic environment of a ‘live’ biofilter. To overcome these challenges, we propose to study and experimentally select suitable adsorption media that can support the growth and activity of pesticide degrading biofilm in the real conditions of a biofilter. Granular activated carbon (GAC) can enable immediate sequestration of micropollutants from a water stream. This project proposes to select and study appropriate adsorptive material capable to adsorb compounds and retain them in the biofilter system long enough to be subsequently biodegraded by filter microbial communities. Different physicochemical characteristics of GAC (e.g. micropores sizes, surface hydrophobicity and acidity) might influence the bioavailability of the pollutant adsorbed enhancing or hindering its biodegradation

The aim of this project is to gain knowledge on the combination of selected adsorptive materials as a support medium to enhance the degradation of micropollutants through biofiltration process by: (1) characterising the adsorption/desorption kinetics of different commercially available GAC for the targeted pesticides ; (2) examining how this material can support the development of degrading communities (3) enhancing pesticides degradation in biofilters. 

The research methods will include the use of lab-scale bioreactors (batch and filter columns), analytical chemistry analyses (GC-MS, LC-MS/MS) and the application of mathematical models to describe the adsorption/desorption/degradation processes.

Informal enquiries and full applications (CV, letter of motivation and two references) can be sent to Dr Marta Vignola () .

Funding Notes

This project is a collaboration between the University of Glasgow, the Federal University of Minas Gerais. We are seeking a stellar candidate to apply to either or both scholarship schemes (fees and stipend at UKRI rates) i) Carnegie/Caledonian PhD Scholarships (applicant must have an undergraduate degree from a Scottish University) and/or ii) James Watt School of Engineering Doctoral Scholarship Scheme (UK or EU student).
The candidate must have or expected to receive a 1st Class Honours undergraduate, in either chemistry, analytical/environmental chemistry, environmental science, Environmental Engineering, Bioprocess/Chemical engineering.


M. J. Hedegaard et al. (2018) Water Res., 129:105–114; T. L. Zearley and R. S. Summers. (2012). Environ. Sci. Technol., 46 (17):9412–9419; J. Vandermaesen, et al. (2019) Chemosphere, 228:427–436.

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