- Course: Wastewater Treatment PhD
- PhD title: Phosphorus recovery from wastewater trough enhanced micro-algal uptake
Why did you choose to study a PhD at the University of Leeds?
I am pursuing my PhD study at the University of Leeds, particularly in the School of Civil Engineering, because this school has worldwide reputation in Environmental Sanitation and Wastewater Research. The first person I recognised from University of Leeds is Proffesor Duncan Mara with his research about natural wastewater treatment which is widely applied in many countries, mainly developing countries. I would like to learn and gain more knowledge about domestic wastewater treatment by pursuing my PhD study and finally, I am now working with microalgae for Phosphorus recovery from wastewater.
Tell us about your research
Currently, I am working to optimise Phosphorus recovery from wastewater by using green microalgae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Microalgae are able to accumulate Phosphorus from their environment (wastewater) and store it in the forms of polyphosphate. As we know polyphosphate are important raw material for fine chemicals, food supplement (protein), bio-fuel and also bio-fertiliser. Therefore, microalgae are able to remove Phosphorus from wastewater and reduce eutrophication impact in receiving water and at the same time can produce highly valuable products in which the raw material comes from low grade wastewater. I also study how the microalgal system can be applied in the current conventional wastewater treatment works.
I have a short general research explanation about microalgal system that I am working on so far:
Does microalgae system fit in the existing wastewater treatment works?
Worldwide, domestic wastewater treatment plants discharge about 10 million tonnes of Nitrogen (N) and 3 million tonnes of Phosphorus (P) annually. If we could harvest even a portion of these nutrients (N and P), which otherwise will stimulate eutrophication in water bodies, it would be possible to use them as fertilizers for agricultural purposes. This will help towards sustainability and improve surface water quality.
An existing wastewater treatment works rely on nitrification-denitrification process to remove N and chemical precipitation by adding metal salts (e.g. aluminium sulphate, iron chloride) or lime to remove P from wastewater. Recently, wastewater treatment industries attempt to recover nutrients from waste stream to produce struvite (slow release fertiliser). However, this practice requires the addition of magnesium and the adjustment of pH. This is economically viable for large wastewater treatment works.
As the existing wastewater treatment works consume high energy to remove the nutrients and also generate greenhouse gases, it is very important to develop an innovative wastewater treatment systems employing microalgae to meet stringent discharge consents and to make the wastewater treatment industry more sustainable.
Microalgae are one of the promising future renewable energy resources which have no major impact on agriculture production. Photosynthetic microalgae utilise energy from the sun and assimilate nutrients from their environment (e.g. wastewater). The algae can grow massively to produce biomass that contains valuable products (i.e. protein, lipids and carbohydrates). This versatile ability of algae can be used to produce biofuels, fine chemical products, food supplements and bio-fertilisers.
In addition, their natural ability in recycling nutrients and using unclean water to grow and produce biomass is an attractive aspect. Therefore, microalgae system can be used as an integrated system for wastewater treatment not only for bioremediation but also for biomass feedstock for biofuel production and bio-chemical products. Furthermore, in terms of CO2 mitigation, microalgae can fix enriched CO2 from flue gas which is generated by fossil fuel power plant and may contribute to reduce greenhouse gases.
What is your favourite part of studying at Leeds?
I was delighted to study my PhD at the School of Civil Engineering because I have an opportunity to develop my research in the iPHEE laboratory. I can conduct many tests in the lab which will support my research and my thesis. All of the equipment, chemicals and other material which are needed to support my experiment are provided by the school (Supervisors). The iPHEE lab also has excellent technicians who are able to support all PhD research. Although in some cases I couldn't do the experiment in iPHEE lab, I have access to conduct my experiment in others school or even in another university. These can fulfil my target to finish all of my research objectives to complete my PhD study.
In addition, during my PhD study I can gain knowledge and enhance my skills as a researcher by attending a wide variety of workshops, training, seminars and conferences which are provided by SDDU, Engineering Faculty, other school or research groups at the University of Leeds. I also have some opportunities to present my research in international conferences in the UK.
What are your ambitions for the future?
In the future I hope to be an excellent researcher in natural wastewater treatment.
Your advice to prospective students
Prospective students should be aware of what their research topic is and have intensive discussions with their candidate supervisor before starting their PhD at University of Leeds, because this can help them to understand more about their research project and they'll be able to conduct their research (in the lab) much sooner.