Biological coagulant recovery for resilient and sustainable water and wastewater treatment PhD

Cranfield University

Cranfield, Bedford, UK 🇬🇧

This PhD position offers an exciting opportunity to do pioneering research on the recovery of nutrients and metals from water treatment sludge to embrace the circular economy and protect our environment. Worldwide, the demand for iron salts for treatment is rapidly increasing as improved water quality targets are required, thus generating both a risk to supply and excess waste that needs disposal. This project combines microbiology, chemical engineering, and wastewater treatment principles to develop a proof-of-concept reactor that harnesses natural processes for resource recovery, enabling resilient and sustainable water treatment within planetary boundaries. 

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

The production of potable water and enhanced treatment of wastewater are heavily dependent on chemical use. Currently both use fresh coagulant once before disposal, which generates waste and requires further mining of minerals to generate fresh coagulants. There is an urgent need to re-think how resources are used respecting planetary boundaries. 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 innovative engineered bioreactors. 

The project aims to understand, improve and accelerate the use of microorganisms for iron-based coagulant recovery. The work will explore the conditions under which specific organisms can naturally cycle iron from waste into a recoverable product for local reuse, and propose ways to optimise this. As such, the ideal candidate will have a strong background in either microbiology or an engineering discipline, and a desire to apply it for a tangible environmental benefit. The work will be primarily in the laboratory, with frequent contact and opportunities for intellectual discussions with the expert team within Cranfield Water. 

The project is part of the CDT WIRe and is co-sponsored by four water utilities, illustrating the applied science components as well as the real-world impact of the expected results. There will be opportunities to disseminate the research findings at both academic conferences and industrial networking events, as well undertaking an international placement. The multiple skills needed to deliver this work will be developed through hands-on training and a bespoke training programme depending on the candidate’s first degree and post-graduation ambitions. As part of WIRe, the student will participate in inspiring group activities as well as complete technical and transferable skills modules within a cohort of up to 15 students. Upon graduation, the student will be well placed to pursue a successful career that has a positive impact in the world. 

At a glance

  • Application deadline: 24 May 2023
  • Award type(s): PhD
  • Start date: 25 Sep 2023
  • Duration of award: 4 years
  • Eligibility: UK, Rest of World
  • Reference number: SWEE0215


1st Supervisor: Dr Gabriela Dotro  

2nd Supervisor: Professor Bruce Jefferson

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. The ideal candidate should have some understanding of biochemistry kinetics and/or microbial culturing. The candidate should be self-motivated, have good communication skills and able to resolve challenges independently, with an interest in applied scientific research. 


Sponsored by EPSRC, Welsh Water, Thames Water, United Utilities and Scottish Water, this studentship will provide a bursary of £21,000 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:
Name: Dr Gabriela Dotro
T: (0) 1234 750111

If you are eligible to apply for this studentship, please complete the online application formstating the reference No. SWEE0215





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