Biofilters for mitigation of landfill methane emissions (MURRELL_UENV17EE) - CASE studentship with Norfolk County Council

University of East Anglia - School of Environmental Sciences

Start Date:  October 2017

No. of positions available: 1

Supervisor: Prof Colin Murrell

Project description: This project investigates the efficiency of microbial biofilters for removal of waste gases from Strumpshaw landfill site, Norfolk. The project is a collaboration between Colin Murrell’s research Group at UEA ( and Charles Wright and his Closed Landfill Team at Norfolk County Council who have been trialling bioxidation of landfill gas using a biofilter composed of compost, wood chip and coir, buried in landfill soil, lined with an impermeable gas barrier. Bioxidation of the methane is done by pumping landfill gas through the biofilter. Aerobic methane oxidising bacteria (methanotrophs) remove the potent greenhouse gas methane before it is released to the atmosphere.

A key objective in this multidisciplinary Project is to assess the effectiveness of bio-oxidation as a management technique for landfill gas. To achieve this, it is imperative to understand the biology underpinning the effectiveness of biofilters and to create a robust framework for future design and long term management of landfill methane biofilters.

Key questions:

  1. How do methanotroph populations and activities change with depth and which are the most effective in consuming methane in the biofilter?
  2. Are physico-chemical parameters in the biofilter optimum for methanotrophs. Do they have the nutrients they need?
  3. Is moisture content correct, do seasonal differences matter, is temperature important?

Answering these questions will improve the rational design and efficiency of landfill methane biofilters. 

Physico-chemical parameters including moisture content, temperature, trace element availability and landfill gas composition, will be measured both in the field and in the laboratory. Methane oxidation potential of biofilter samples will be determined using gas chromatography. Distribution and diversity of methanotrophs in the biofilter will be determined by analysis of 16S rRNA genes and genes targeting the key enzyme methane monooxygenase. Key active methanotrophs in biofilter samples will be identified by stable isotope probing using 13CH4, a technique pioneered in Murrell’s lab and subsequently isolated and characterised at the physiological and molecular level.

The PhD student will be trained in a wide variety of analytical and microbiological techniques and will learn a number of cutting-edge techniques in molecular microbial ecology, including DNA stable isotope probing and metagenomics.

Person specification: Applicants will have a minimum 2:1 BSc, or Master’s degree in Biological or Environmental Science-related subjects

Funding notes: This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296.

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