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Environmental solutions for water bioremediation and waste management

Primary supervisor: Dr Luisa Orsini, School of Biosciences

Non-academic partner lead applicant: Stopford Consultancy

Project Title: Environmental solutions for water bioremediation and waste management

Project description:

Treatment of wastewater is an essential process for water reuse in municipal, agricultural and industrial processes. However, the safe and sustainable reuse of treated wastewater is compromised by the presence of persistent contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, biocides and industrial chemicals, many of which are known endocrine disrupters, can cause cancer and autoimmune diseases (e.g. 1,2). Current wastewater treatment works are not designed to eliminate such contaminants. Hence, treated wastewater, used for irrigation, managed aquifer recharge, and abstraction, causes significant concerns for human and environmental health 3-5. Chemicalpollution is responsible for the yearly death of 9 million people globally, 4% of which are children under the age of five 6. There is an increasing global demand for effective tertiary wastewater treatment (WWT) technologies that eliminate persistent contaminants, enabling water reuse and promoting green growth. This demand reflects increasingly stringent regulations (e.g. Water Framework Directive; Directive 2008/1/EC for pollution prevention and control; Directive 2004/35/CE for preventing and remediation of environmental damage).

Established chemical/mechanical tertiary WWT processes are associated with high operational energy requirements, significant infrastructure, and potential generation of toxic by-products (e.g. bromate from ozonation). Sustainable solutions that use biologicalagents (e.g. phycoremediation) are emerging as they are preferred to meet the net-zero carbon emission and sustainable goals ofthe international agenda 7. However, their adoption is likely to be limited because of their operational costs, limited capacity for contaminant removal and long resident times.

The aim of this proposal is to develop and apply sustainable, scalable and effective solutions for tertiary wastewater treatment to address the dual need of water reuse and waste management, with waste valorisation highly desirable.

The main supervisor has prototyped an engineering biology process for municipal wastewater decontamination (patent WO/2021/116229). The process uses a renewable biological agent (waterflea) that works as a microscopic ‘vacuum cleaner’ to remove, concentrate and retain contaminants from wastewater. The water decontamination process generates biowaste enriched with contaminants following the natural life cycle of the biological agent. With the contribution of the industrial partner Stopford, the objectives of the projects are:

1) To test and apply the technology at industrial scale developing a minimum viable commercial product

2) To identify the most cost-effective process that transform the biowaste into harmless by-products

3) To achieve circularity by valorising the biowaste generated by the decontamination process into carbon positive or neutral products

The PhD candidate will lead the upscaling and commercialization of the biotechnology and partake in any IP arising from its applications.


  1. Chang, E. T., Adami, H. O., Boffetta, P., Wedner, H. J. & Mandel, J. S. A critical review of perfluorooctanoate and perfluorooctanesulfonate exposure and immunological health conditions in humans. Crit Rev Toxicol 46, 279-331, doi:10.3109/10408444.2015.1122573 (2016).
  2. Suppa, A. et al. Roundup causes embryonic development failure, alters metabolic pathways and gut microbiota functionality in non-target species BMC Microbiome 8, 170 (2020).
  3. Gosset, A., Polome, P. & Perrodin, Y. Ecotoxicological risk assessment of micropollutants from treated urban wastewater effluents for watercourses at a territorial scale: Application and comparison of two approaches. Int J Hyg Environ Health 224, 113437, doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.113437 (2020).
  4. Landrigan, P. J. & al., e. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. (, 2017).
  5. Pu, Y. et al. Maternal glyphosate exposure causes autism-like behaviors in offspring through increased expression of soluble epoxide hydrolase. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 117, 11753-11759, doi:10.1073/pnas.1922287117 (2020).
  6. Landrigan, P. J., Fuller, R., Acosta, N. J. R., et al. . , p. o. O. & Pollution, health, and the planet: time for decisive action. (Lancet, 2017).
  7. Commission, E. A new Circular Economy Action Plan For a cleaner and more competitive Europe. (2020).

Contact: Dr Luisa Orsini, University of Birmingham