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Funded PhD Opportunity

Engineered solar systems for drinking water disinfection.

Subject: Engineering


At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated and thus likely to lead to diarrheal illness. Diseases related to the consumption of contaminated drinking-water (food and domestic uses) place a major burden on human health. In 2015, 663 million people still lacked access to an improved drinking water source, and these are mostly the poor and marginalized. Almost a quarter of those people rely on surface water that is untreated and microbiologically unsafe, leading to a higher risk of contracting waterborne diseases, including typhoid, hepatitis A and E, polio and cholera. There are several low-cost interventions that can disinfect water. Among them, solar water disinfection has been demonstrated to inactivate a number of pathogenic microorganisms. Nevertheless, a number of challenges have identified that limit the application and compliance of this technology in the field, as for example the up-scaling of solar reactors to treat water at community level, the water quality assurance for adhering to the WHO international scheme to evaluate Household Water Treatment Technologies, and the user dependency.

The objective of this PhD project relates to the development of an application of solar water disinfection systems for the disinfection of water at community level facing these issues. This PhD project will focus on the efficiency of solar radiation for several microbial indicators inactivation and will identify engineered-enhancement routes to improve the process efficiency for the provision of safe water in low-income communities.

The main objectives of this project are:

Design and construct efficient low cost systems for the enhanced disinfection of drinking water, with focus in the materials selection.

Determining the efficiency of the solar disinfection systems for a bacterial and a viral indicator.

Identifying the main physical and design factors affecting solar water disinfection of bacterial and viral indicators and potential enhancers.

Determining the efficiency of the process under real solar radiation in the communities of the SAFEWATER project.

This project should deliver an engineered system for solar enhanced disinfection for providing safe drinking water for areas of low income. The data and results of this project will be published in high impact peer reviewed journals. The main novelty of this proposal is the development of a low-cost system for delivering clean and safe drinking water for sunny areas of the world with focus in community scale and quality assurance. The main impact expected for this project will be to reduce the incidence of diseases transmitted as result of drinking untreated water. This will be evaluated in selected communities of Latin America, and the results will be used as an exemplar for the use of technology for sustainable development – consistent with UN priorities and the sustainable development goals.

This PhD proposal is complementary to the recently funded GCRF – RCUK ‘SAFEWATER’ project (£4.8 M from EPSRC).

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
Mid March 2018

Contact supervisor

Dr Pilar Fernandez-Ibanez

Other supervisors


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