This exciting fully funded PhD, with an enhanced stipend of £24,000 per annum (with fees covered), will deliver a comprehensive understanding of micropollutant removal in different types of nature-based solutions (NbS) for water and wastewater treatment. The research will explore sustainable engineering strategies to boost their performance to deliver benefits for the environment and society. The outputs of this work will support practitioners in making informed investment decisions for resilient infrastructure that can ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and meets societal expectations.

Nature-based solutions (NbS) have gained increasing attention in recent years, with the UK at the forefront of deploying NbS to address various environmental challenges. Water Utilities have implemented NbS including treatment wetlands (TWs) and sustainable drainage systems (SuDs) at water recycling centres and within individual surface water catchment areas, respectively. These systems offer significant benefits, such as nutrient removal, flood attenuation, and biodiversity enhancement. However, there remains a gap in the assessment of emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, microplastics, and PFAS pollutants.

Despite substantial investments in assessing micropollutant removal through the UK Chemical Investigation Programmes (CIP), TWs, which are often employed as the final treatment to safeguard surface water, have been overlooked in previous CIP 2&3 assessments. In addition to statutory Environmental Quality Standards (EQS), the Environment Agency has published the Prioritisation and Early Warning System (PEWS) to highlight the risks posed by priority chemicals in surface water. There remains a critical need to evaluate the efficacy of NbS in mitigating these statutory micropollutants. Following the monitoring, it is also essential to develop enhanced NbS strategies that target micropollutant removal and remain compatible with other ecological and environmental benefits. 

The aims of this project are therefore to 1) benchmark the long-term performance of NbS (e.g. treatment wetlands and SuDs) through site surveys, 2) explore sustainable intensification strategies, including advanced media and engineering biology approaches, to enhance treatment performance, and 3) to conduct cost-benefits analyses and ecosystem assessments to support the application of intensified NbS strategies.

The project is an exciting collaboration between Cranfield University, the Water Research Centre (WRc), and four UK water utilities. The successful applicant will make use of the pilot-scale nature-based solution test facilities at Cranfield’s National Research Facilities and the field-scale systems operated by the sponsors. By focusing on the evaluation and enhancement of NbS for micropollutant remediation, the project will contribute to building more adaptive and resilient water infrastructure systems, ensuring the long-term viability and security of water resources for future generations.

Additionally, as part of the CDT WIRe, students will benefit from an enhanced stipend of £24,000 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 deadline17 Jul 2024
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date30 Sep 2024
  • Duration of award4 years
  • EligibilityUK, Rest of world
  • Reference numberSWEE0258


1st supervisor - Dr Tao Lyu

2nd supervisor - Dr Gabriela Dotro

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 Environmental Engineering, Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Science, or Chemical Engineering. It is essential that the candidate has experience and/or an understanding of analytical chemistry and biological wastewater treatment. It is desirable for candidates to hold a driving licence (incl. an international licence) as the role involves some field sampling around the UK. The candidate should be self-motivated, have good communication skills for regular interaction with other stakeholders, with an interest in applied scientific research.


Sponsored by EPSRC, the Water Research Centre (WRc), and four UK water utilities, this studentship will provide a bursary of £24,000 per year with fees paid. All training and placement (overseas/industry) costs will also be covered, subject to supervisor approval.

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.

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 Tao Lyu
T: +44(0) 1234 754504
If you are eligible to apply for this research studentship, please complete the online application form stating the reference number SWEE0258. Please note we will be interviewing as applications are received.
For further information contact us today:
T: +44 (0)1234 758082