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Contributing to the circular economy: biological coagulant recovery in water and wastewater treatment

Cranfield University

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Cranfield
Funding for: UK Students
Funding amount: £18,500 (tax free) plus fees* for three years
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 7th March 2019
Closes: 17th May 2019
Reference: SWEE0074

This PhD position offers an exciting opportunity to do pioneering research on the recovery of nutrients and metals from water treatment sludge in close collaboration with industry. This project will develop a biological reactor for the extraction of iron and phosphorus from water waste for in-house reuse. The work combines microbiology, chemical engineering, and wastewater treatment principles to develop a proof of concept reactor. Working in collaboration with Scottish Water, Severn Trent, United Utilities and Thames Water, the student will benefit from a stimulating research environment with key input from the end user.

Current production of potable water is heavily dependent on chemical use with the UK currently using 325,000 tonnes of coagulant and producing 182,000 tonnes of sludge each year at a cost of £41m and £8.1m, respectively. Wastewater treatment also uses coagulants for enhanced treatment, with changing legislation increasing the use of coagulants to beyond that used in drinking water for the first time. Currently both use the fresh coagulant once before disposal. Coagulant recovery is therefore a much-coveted target to help reduce costs, minimise the vulnerabilities associated with the sourcing of the coagulant, and reduce the environmental footprint of the water industry. Work to date has been based on chemical recovery processes, which can have prohibitive financial and environmental costs. This PhD opportunity postulates that recovery can be made sustainable using engineered bioreactors that deliver an output that is both plausible and viable with reuse applications and the circular economy.

This project aims to determine the feasibility of operating a biological reactor to recover iron and phosphorus from water and wastewater treatment sludge.

The student will lead the work, develop experimental plans, conduct all research and discuss the key findings with the sponsors at regular intervals during the three years of work, under the guidance of the supervisory team. There will be opportunities to disseminate the research findings at academic conferences and industrial networking events.

The work is primarily laboratory-based at Cranfield University, with sampling trips to each of the water utilities. The student will work on understanding the fundamental pathways for Fe and P transformations, establish the critical reactor design and operation criteria, and propose the designs for a proof of concept prototype.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline. This project would suit microbiologists, engineers from chemical, environmental or ecologial backgrounds, and environmental scientists.


To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be a UK national. Full details on our website.

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