Water Chemistry: Understanding the role of Nitrogen in Disinfection By-Products


   School of Water, Energy and Environment (SWEE)

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  Dr E Goslan, Prof Peter Jarvis, Prof Bruce Jefferson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This exciting fully funded PhD, with an enhanced stipend of £19,000 per annum, will deliver insights into the formation of nitrogenous disinfection by products to allow their concentrations to be minimised through assessment of source water nitrogen and its removal through treatment. This will allow operational mitigations and investment decisions to be made by water companies to enable future reductions in risk when producing drinking water.

Students will benefit from being part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (WIRe), a world leading collaboration between three UK universities (Cranfield, Sheffield & Newcastle). The WIRe programme includes a bespoke training programme in technical and personal skills development, and provides opportunities for overseas travel and access to world leading experimental facilities (PhDs under this scheme are for a duration of four years full time).

Water resources are coming under increasing pressure. The greatest pressure on water supply is from population growth and development. Climate change is making these pressures even more challenging. This puts water companies in a position where the water they abstract for the production of drinking water is more likely to be impacted by sewage treatment works effluent, and climate change impacts such as algal growth and agricultural run-off will increase.

All these factors mean that the organic nitrogen levels are at significant and increasing concentrations in water being used as a drinking water source. These compounds are recalcitrant to removal by conventional treatment technologies resulting in elevated organic nitrogen levels in treated waters. This in turn impacts on the formation of nitrogenous disinfection by products (NDBPs). Disinfection by products are formed when organic matter present in treated drinking water sources reacts with the disinfectant (often sodium hypochlorite or chlorine gas). In addition to organic matter, the reactants include bromide, iodide and organic nitrogen. Although NDBPs are not regulated in the UK, legislation requires that DBP concentrations must be kept as low as possible without compromising the effectiveness of the disinfection process. In addition, a prescribed concentration of 100 µg L-1 has been set for the sum of the concentrations of the four trihalomethanes measured at the consumers tap with regulation for haloacetic acids included in the revised EC Drinking Water Directive with a likely UK standard of 60µg L-1 for HAA-5.

The aims of this project are to:

1.          Develop analytical methods for organic nitrogen, haloacetonitriles, halonitromethanes, haloacetamides and nitrosamines.

2.          Determine the impact of source waters containing different types of organic nitrogen on NDBP formation.

3.          Investigate the impact of treatment processes on removal of organic nitrogen compounds and subsequent formation of NDBPs at bench, pilot and full scale.

The project is an exciting collaboration between Cranfield University and UK Water Industry Research Ltd (UKWIR). UKWIR is a collaborative research platform for the UK and Ireland water sector, funded by the water utility companies operating in these countries. The project will enable water companies to develop strategies for control of NDBPs in order for them to meet the requirement for minimisation. By looking at the sources of organic nitrogen in water, its role in NDBP formation and potential routes to removal through treatment, this project will build an understanding of the fundamental science to be able to develop strategies for future investment to increase the resilience of our water supplies.

The successful applicant will make use of the Drinking Water Pilot Plant facility at Cranfield University to translate the lab results to full-scale. Additionally, as part of the WIRe doctoral centre, students will benefit from an enhanced stipend of £19,000 per annum, undertake an international placement, and complete a bespoke training programme within a cohort of up to 15 students across the three universities.  

At the end of the project the successful applicant will be very well positioned to have a highly successful career in the water sector or in an academic role. We will help you develop into a dynamic, confident and highly competent researcher with wider transferable skills (communication, project management and leadership) with an international network of colleagues.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or upper second class UK honours degree, or equivalent, in a related discipline, such as chemistry or chemical engineering. The ideal candidate should have some understanding of watershed chemistry and water treatment. The candidate should be self-motivated, have good communication skills for regular interaction with other stakeholders, with an interest in applied scientific research. Prior experience in the water sector would be advantageous but is not essential.

How to apply

For further information please contact:

Name: Dr Emma Goslan

Email: [Email Address Removed]

T: (0) 1234 750111 Ext: 8343

If you are eligible to apply for the PhD, please complete the online PhD application form stating the Reference No. SWEE0177


Funding Notes

Sponsored by EPSRC and an industrial partner (UKWIR Ltd), this studentship will provide a bursary of £19,000* per annum plus fees for four years.
To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be a UK national. Eligibility - The studentship is open to UK and international students (including EU countries) however due to funding rules, no more than 30% of the projects in this cohort can be allocated to international students.
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