Resource and energy recovery from sewage sludge by optimised advanced thermal conversion process control

A PhD project at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (WIRe)

This exciting fully funded PhD, with an enhanced stipend of £19,000 per annum, will deliver innovative science to address future sludge management challenges by developing new understanding of the advanced thermal conversion of sewage sludges to valuable products. This research project will increase the resilience and sustainability of the water industry by contributing to future strategies in the management of sludges and recovering commodities as part of a circular economy and the drive to become carbon neutral.

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. 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). More details of the CDT WIRe.

We are an inclusive and diverse doctoral centre and welcome applications from all highly motivated individuals, regardless of background, identity or disability.

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The management of treated sewage sludges in the future will require new and innovative developments to ensure sustainability across the waste water sector. This project directly addresses the agendas around sustainability, carbon management and climate change in the water & wastewater industry, providing new scientific knowledge in the production of green energy and high value products through thermochemical conversion of sewage sludges.

Advanced thermal conversion (ATC) of sewage sludges produce energy-rich gases. These gases can be used immediately for energy (electrical and/or heat) production or upgraded for specific products, such as chemicals, hydrogen, methane etc. However, the market for product gases changes due to available infrastructure, commercial requirements and legislative changes. Therefore, there is an opportunity to view ATC as a flexible opportunity to produce the required products at a given time and depending on feedstock characteristics and the emerging commercial opportunities for products. This project will develop understanding of the relationships between sewage sludge feedstock composition, process conditions, gas processing technologies and the final outputs.

This PhD position will address emerging challenges in the future management of sewage sludges. The aim of this project is to enable the production of high value products and control & reduction of carbon equivalent and other emissions from advanced thermal treatment of sewage sludges. This will be achieved by understanding the chemical and thermal processes in a specific facility and determining which feedstock characteristics and process parameters influence the gas yield and composition. Whilst the project will include an extensive understanding of current and future appetite for high-value products from gases from ATC technologies, gas cleaning and upgrading options will be the primary aspects of the project, with comprehensive analysis of feedstock and process control analysed to process the gases produced into high-value products.

The project is an exciting collaboration between Cranfield University and Thames Water. The collaborative work will have a high impact across the waste water industry along with the growing interest in the waste industry in advanced thermal treatment. The successful PhD candidate will investigate the impacts of feedstock properties and process conditions on gas yields and the subsequent gas cleaning/upgrading required to produce commercially valuable compounds. There will be an element of machine learning to build a decision-support tool to enable the selection of best system configuration and process conditions to achieve a desired product. Additionally, as part of the CDT WIRe, 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.

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.

At a glance

  • Application deadline07 May 2021
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date27 Sep 2021
  • Duration of award4 years
  • EligibilityUK, EU, Rest of World
  • Reference numberSWEE0139

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a minimum equivalent to a UK upper second class degree (2.1) and preferably an MSc in a relevant subject such as chemistry or chemical engineering. The ideal candidate should have some understanding of thermal treatment technologies, demonstrate an ability to plan and deliver practical test work and be proficient in analysing experimental data. 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 energy or water sectors would be advantageous but is not essential.

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.


Sponsored by EPSRC and Thames Water, this studentship will provide a bursary of £19,000 per year with fees paid. All training and placement (overseas/industry) costs will also be covered, subject to supervisor approval.

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:

Name: Dr Stuart Wagland


If you are eligible to apply for the PhD, please complete the online PhD application form stating the reference No. SWEE0139