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Treatment wetlands as a nature-based solution for long term phosphorus removal and carbon sequestration PhD

   School of Water, Energy and Environment (SWEE)

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  Dr G Dotro, Dr Tao Lyu, Prof Bruce Jefferson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded PhD project will enable nature-based solutions for phosphorus removal from wastewater treatment to be implemented at scale, thus protecting receiving water courses, and contributing to climate change adaptation. The research will establish the design envelope for the use of treatment wetlands by combining applied scientific research on phosphorus carbon cycling with real-world implementation challenges. The student will work with six UK water utilities and the Environment Agency, conducting field work in full-scale systems, developing innovative wetland adaptations, and assessing those innovations from a business standpoint to map the suitability of NbS for sustainable phosphorus capture. 

Along with global population growth and industrialisation, the widespread application of phosphorus (P) has resulted in substantially increased discharge of P into the environment and elevated occurrence of eutrophication in natural waters. Domestic wastewater can be one of the major sources of P if not specifically targeted at the design stage. Treatment wetlands (TWs) are a type of nature-based solutions (NbS) that can potentially capture P from wastewater whilst providing multiple benefits including increasing biodiversity, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration, and contribute to the wellbeing of the local community.

In the UK, Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, the Water Industry’s National Environment Programme, and the EA2025 Plan have created a unique opportunity to consider TWs to deliver P removal concomitant with the provision of environmental and societal co-benefits. Long term P capture is still one of the key challenges for all types of TWs. The net behaviour of a TW as a sink (P capture) or source (P release) depends on the predominant biogeochemical pathways operating within a TW at any given time. These, in turn, depend on TW design, operation and maintenance. In addition, whilst co-benefits are typically a key reason for TW preference over grey alternatives, limited information exists on the impact of integrating co-benefits on P removal performance and maintenance requirements. The rapid development of science-based evidence and design envelope for TWs for P removal is critical to enable timely contributions to the environmental ambitions.

The project will focus on surface flow TWs including systems combined with grey technologies. This work fits within the Environment Agency’s wastewater target of reducing P loadings from treated wastewater by 80% by 2037 against a 2020 baseline. The project will establish the design envelope for TWs targeting P removal and delivery of compatible co-benefits including carbon sequestration, and provide recommendations for their design, operation and maintenance.

Cranfield University has significant expertise across the themes of Water and Environment on researching, enhancing, and helping to implement nature-based solutions on the ground. The Cranfield NbS team is leading several TWs projects, which are financially supported by EPSRC, Royal Academy of Engineering, the Environment Agency and UK water utilities. The National Water and Wastewater Treatment Facility located on campus enables rapid testing of technologies, including TWs. This PhD is funded by five major UK utilities and Environment Agency, who are seeking to further implement nature-based solutions for wastewater treatment and delivering multiple benefits to the society. 

The project outputs are expected to include guidance on how to design TWs specifically for long term P capture and delivery of co-benefits. As the work is sponsored by both the future owners of the wetlands (assets) to be created based on the guidance and the environmental regulator, it will have a tangible impact on wetland implementation at UK level and the associated improvement in the natural environment. 

The project is fully funded for both UK and international students, covering fees plus a stipend of £19,000 per year for three years. The combination of engineering, science and business components of the work will result in a well-rounded graduate at the end of the project, with an understanding of scientific research as well as real world experience in driving innovation through to market.

As well as the stipend and fees, we will support the student to participate in at least one international conference and one national industrial conference to both disseminate key outputs and develop a professional network. Specific laboratory skills training, such as wastewater treatment technology (water and wastewater engineering), water/soil quality analysis (environmental chemistry), molecular microbiological analysis (microbiology) and greenhouse gas measurements (analytical chemistry), will be provided as needed. The student will also be mentored and expected to write peer-reviewed publications and project reports to industry partners. 

In addition to the transferrable skills programme (communication, project management and leadership) on offer at Cranfield, the candidate will work with their academic supervisors to tailor a personal development plan based on experience, and career aspirations. At the end of the project the successful applicant will be very well positioned to have a successful career in the water sector or in an academic role. 

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in environmental science, a relevant engineering discipline (e.g., environmental, chemical, wastewater), biology or a related discipline. It is desirable that the candidate has worked with treatment wetlands or other biological treatment technology but not required.  

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

If you are eligible to apply for this PhD, please complete the online application form stating the reference No. SWEE0205

For further information please contact:

Dr Gabriela Dotro E: [Email Address Removed]

Dr Tao Lyu E: [Email Address Removed]

Admissions- T: +44 (0)1234 758082 E: [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Sponsored by UK water utilities and Environment Agency, this studentship will provide a bursary of £19,000 (tax free) plus Fees for three years.
The project is open to both UK and international students who meet the academic requirements. The successful candidate will receive an annual stipend of £19,000 (tax free) plus fees for three years. Please note that we'll interview as applications come in, thus the position may be occupied before the deadline.
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