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Trade-offs in water system design and operation for a sustainable water future

Project Description

In the UK and in other industrialised countries, financial constraints, an ageing infrastructure and the uncertain consequences of climate change make the development of innovative solutions for pipe network design key to ensuring a sustainable delivery of clean water.

This is a complex task, as trade-offs abound in water distribution networks design. For instance, larger pipes enable water delivery even during peak consumption events, but they are most costly to install, and their underuse can lead to pressure management and water quality issues. Yet, these trade-offs are often overlooked to instead size networks according to a single objective, e.g. cost, under regulatory constraints, e.g. water supply reliability. In addition, design does not account for uncertainties regarding the network’s future development. Neither does it account for future shifts in consumption, either from behavioural changes or from technological innovations aimed at reducing demand. Both would make pipes needlessly oversized.

This PhD will explore these issues to foster the design of sustainable and cost-efficient water distribution networks. Working with real-world distribution networks and simulation models, the research will include:

1) Contrasting classical methods of optimisation under constraints with multi-objective optimisation techniques. This will help researchers and practitioners to understand how considering trade-offs can lead to better solutions to the same problem.
2) Extending the initial work in (1) to consider consequences of uncertain changes in demand, through shifts in technology and / or behaviour, on design outcomes. This will show which solutions are robust to these uncertainties.
3) Generalise the work in (2) to formulate a multi-objective framework for network design. This framework will explicitly account for uncertainties in future consumption in the design stage.

The successful applicant will join a world-class water research environment and will be part of the TWENTY65 consortium (, working with leading water academics in the UK and worldwide. You will have access to unprecedented collaboration opportunities with more than 100 industrial partners working together across a wide range of activities, including an annual conference, Thought Leadership Club workshops, and spin-out projects. Training activities will include technical, policy, and social aspects alongside a cohort of students working across the TWENTY65 water domain from robotics to energy to public engagement. The applicant will also be part of the successful and friendly Pennine Water Group in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, and of the interdisciplinary Sheffield Water Centre.

The candidate
Suitable for candidates holding or anticipating award of an MSc, or 1st/2.1 undergraduate degree in an engineering or numerical/physical sciences discipline. A background in a civil engineering specialty is desirable but all engineering backgrounds will be considered. Candidates should have an enthusiasm for research and a wish to deploy outputs in a practical environment.

Next steps
Informal enquiries are very welcome. Please contact Dr Charles Rougé on 0114 222 5723 or or Dr Vanessa Speight on 0114 222 0259 or

Applications are welcome now. The start date is flexible, but planned to be around September 2020.

Funding Notes

Funding notes
Awards for UK students cover tuition fees and a maintenance allowance at the standard RCUK rate - currently £14,553 per annum. EU applicants who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years immediately preceding the start of their course are also eligible for awards that cover tuition fees and provide a maintenance allowance.

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Civil and Construction Engineering?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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