Funded PhD Opportunity Electrolytic and Photoelectrolytic Decontamination of Wastewater / Chemical engineering and wastewater treatment

Subject: Engineering


One quarter of the World population commonly drink water that is not safe.  Many countries are experiencing water stress and this will exacerbated due to increasing population and climate change. Pollution of existing fresh water sources is a major problem.  Contaminants of Emerging Concerns (CECs) such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, and other pollutants, including pathogens, antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARBs) and genes (ARGs) have been reported to be present in sewage effluent and drinking water.

There is a need for the development of novel technologies that can effectively remove or degrade these CECs.  Photoelectrolytic (or electrochemically assisted photocatalytic) treatment of water is an innovative approach for the tertiary treatment of wastewater.

The main aim of this PhD project will be to develop a novel photoelectrochemical cell for the removal of contaminants of emerging concern from wastewater. This will involved the design and fabrication of a reactor that can treat up to 10 L of wastewater (tertiary treatment), and to test this reactor for the removal of model organic pollutants (pharmaceuticals/antibiotics) and disinfection resistant microorganisms.

The main objectives of this project are:

-Extensive literature review concerning CECs, disinfection resistant microorgansisms, and photoelectrolytic processes for water treatment.

-Modelling and design of a photoelectrolytic reactor for the treatment of wastewater.

-Testing of the system using model pollutants and model microorganisms, and validation of reaction modelling

-Determination of the main reactive oxygen species and reaction mechanisms involved.

-Development of a prototype system that can treat real wastewater (following secondary sewage treatment).

The data and results of this research will be published in high impact peer reviewed journals. The main novelty of this proposal is the development of a pilot system based on photoelectrolytic processes  for tertiary treatment of wastewater for the removal of CECs, allowing reuse of the water.

This project aligns with the recently awarded H2020-PANIWATER (Total funding €5.06M, PI Dr Fernandez), which primarily addresses UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 ‘Ensure access to water and sanitation for all’. PANIWATER is a multidisciplinary research project where several European and Indian partners will collaborate in research novel technologies for the treatment of water and wastewater with the aim of reducing water stress and water scarcity in India.  This will allow for the PhD student to be integrated into a large multidisciplinary team. The proposal addresses the Ulster 5 & 50 strategic themes of Healthy Communities, Sustainability and Social Renewal.   There is significant opportunity for impact through the PANIWATER network leading to real outcomes for India.

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

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
March 2019


Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact Supervisor

Dr Pilar Fernandez-Ibanez

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #344718 when applying for this PhD opportunity