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. The Water Industry is rapidly embracing the circular economy, actively trying to transform materials typically considered waste into resources. 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. Read more Read less

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.
Four water utilities together with EPSRC are sponsoring this leading-edge research project. 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 both academic conferences and industrial networking events. 
The work is primarily laboratory-based at Cranfield University, with sampling trips to each of the water utilities to source various types of sludge to determine the feasibility of the bioreactor. 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. The business implications including the role of the bioreactor in the contribution to the circular economy and the overall environmental footprint of the water utilities will form part of the feasibility assessment. The multiple skills needed to deliver this work will be developed through hands-on training, elective modules and mentoring, depending on the candidate’s first degree and post-graduation ambitions. 

At a glance

  • Application deadline31 Aug 2019
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Duration of award3 years
  • EligibilityUK, EU
  • Reference numberSWEE0074

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.


Sponsored by EPSRC, Cranfield University, Severn Trent Water, Thames Water, United Utilities and Scottish Water, this studentship will provide a bursary of up to £18,500 (tax free) plus fees* for three years .

*To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be a UK national. We require that applicants are under no restrictions regarding how long they can stay in the UK i.e. have no visa restrictions or applicant has “settled status” and has been “ordinarily resident” in the UK for 3 years prior to start of studies and has not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals). Due to funding restrictions all EU nationals are eligible to receive a fees-only award if they do not have “settled status” in the UK.

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

For further information please contact: Dr Gabriela Dotro E: 

If you are eligible to apply for this research studentship, please complete the online application form stating the reference number SWEE0074.

For further information contact us today:
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