PhD Efficient Pfas Removal From Urban Wastewater and Biosolids Coupled with Resource Recovery Through Innovative Technologies

A new PhD position in organic chemistry is available at The University of Queensland. Successful candidate will have funding to work and study for three years in Australia. The deadline for applying is December 06, 2018.

The Federal Government 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia exercise confirmed The University of Queensland as one of the nation's top two universities, measured by the quality of its comprehensive range of specialised research fields. The Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai Jiao Tong), Times Higher Education, and QS all rank UQ in the top 100 universities, globally. UQ is one of Australia's Group of Eight, and a founding member of Universitas 21, an international consortium of leading research-intensive universities.

The 45,500-strong student community at UQ includes more than 10,000 postgraduate scholars and more than 11,000 international students from 162 countries. The University has more than 7,000 academic and professional staff and a $1.6 billion annual operating budget. Its major campuses are at St Lucia, Ipswich, Gatton and Herston, in addition to teaching and research sites around Queensland and Brisbane city. The University has six faculties and eight institutes funded by government and industry grants, philanthropy and commercialization activities.

The School of Civil Engineering, the Advanced Water Management Centre and Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences

The School of Civil Engineering is a leading provider of civil and environmental engineering research, attracting academic staff, researchers and students from around the world. Comprised of 38 academics, the school's staff represents a diverse range of research interests including research in water, environmental, geotechnical, structural and transportation engineering. The school's academic staff members are recognized leaders in their areas of specialization, and receive many invitations to undertake high-level consultancy for industry and government. Established links between the school and industry have secured a number of strategic partnerships. These partnerships provide funding to further our research priorities and ensure that teaching programs continue to evolve in line with advances in technology and industry requirements. Graduates of the school can be found all over the world, working at all levels of government and industry. Our alumni are taking leading roles in helping to build cleaner and sustainable industries, provide waste and pollution control and guide improved resource management.

The Advanced Water Management Centre (AWMC) is an internationally recognised centre of excellence in innovative water technology and management. The Centre has established an outstanding worldwide reputation in urban water management and related fields. An award winning multidisciplinary team delivers practical technological solutions underpinned by fundamental scientific discoveries. The Centre has six interlinked programs namely next generation urban water technologies, integrated urban water management, sewer corrosion and odour management, nexus of urban water, health and environment, resource efficient agri-industry and environmental biotechnology. The AWMC has approximately 100 staff and students including 35 academic and research staff and more than 50 research students. The Centre has well-established process, microbiology and analytical labs. The direct collaboration with industry partners has also led to the creation of several field facilities including the Innovation Centre at Queensland Urban Utilities' Luggage Point Sewage Treatment Plant, supporting technology demonstration at larger scales and under practical conditions.

Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences is the leading institution in the field of ultra-trace analysis of organic pollutants in Australia. With dedicated trace analytical laboratories (ISO 5 and 6 equivalence) and state-of-the-art capabilities in PFAS analysis, QAEHS is crucial to this project. In Australia, about 80% of sludge is applied to the land in agricultural applications. However, there is an increasing concern about the presence of emerging contaminants in the biosolids. In particular, Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) are under increasing scrutiny. So far, there is very little understanding of the fate of PFAS compounds and other contaminants such as heavy metals and plasticizers in the sludge digestion process. The latter is central to capturing and removing these compounds from the treated effluent and biosolids streams. Aggregating these compounds on an adsorbent that can be separated, regenerated and recycled back into the wastewater treatment would be an exciting outcome and open up a plethora of options for next generation technologies dealing with emerging contaminants as well as targeted recovery of valuable compounds like phosphate. The surface properties of the sorbent and the digestion conditions will be explored to maximize the partitioning of the widest range of contaminants to the adsorbent. Very recently, at UQ, we have developed a cheap and robust methods to produce magnetite nanoparticles, a proven sorbent for PFAS. One of the key advantages of MNP is its magnetic properties that allows easy separation and recycling within the digestion process.

The projects involve the development of an innovative multi-step technology that allow for practical and economically feasible destruction of PFAS compounds while enabling recovery of valuable resources. The project is in collaboration with the University of Maryland and Ghent University, both of which are internationally recognized research institutes. More specially, this project aims to develop a novel 2-step approach applied to municipal wastewater to sorb PFAS compounds onto magnetite nanoparticles, a recently proven adsorbent for PFAS. The "PFAS-rich" MNP will ultimately end up in the excess sludge of the wastewater treatment plant. This sludge containing the PFAS will be subjected to anaerobic digestion. As a final step, the anaerobically digested sludge will be treated using an innovative smoldering reactor, designed specifically for low cost, low energy, hygienic waste management. The smoldering process will produces ash, a condensate and a flue gas stream. The fate of the PFAS will be investigated through detailed monitoring and advance analytical tools in order to find the most optimum removal technologies from these streams.

The role

1) Biological processes (and in particular anaerobic digestion), reactor operation, physical/chemical processes and a detailed understanding of emerging contaminants in urban wastewater and sludge management. The student will conduct detailed laboratory scale investigations to fundamentally understand relevant processes and reveal mechanisms, with the aim to ultimately translate the obtained findings and knowledge to pilot plant and/or field investigations.2) Smoldering combustion, sludge management and many characterization and analysis techniques for solids and gases. The student will also learn how to translate fundamental knowledge to practical applications by conducting field trials. The student will conduct detailed studies using bench-scale smoldering reactors to fundamentally understand relevant combustion processes in order to determine the fate of PFAS during the process.

3) Applied electrochemistry, environmental engineering, reactor operation, and a detailed understanding of emerging contaminants in urban wastewater and sludge management. The student will conduct detailed investigations using laboratory scale electrochemical systems to fundamentally understand the relevant electrochemical processes and optimize the production of magnetite nanoparticles (MNP). The electrochemically produced MNP will be subjected to detailed characterization studies using advanced analytical tools and will be used in comprehensive sorption experiments using synthetic solutions and real wastewater. The student may also be involved in field investigations to determine the effectiveness of the concept and validation under real life conditions.

The person

The candidate(s) will have a master's degree or 1st Class Honours degree or equivalent in science/engineering and domestic applicants should be eligible for an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) or equivalent (for more information, please visit: Background in environmental and/or chemical engineering, organic chemistry and water engineering is desirable. International applicants must meet the University of Queensland’s English Language Proficiency (ELP) requirements detailed at


The base stipend will be at the rate of AUD $ 27,082 per annum (2019 rate) tax-free for three years with the possibility of a six month extension in approved circumstances.

Mandatory requirements for international applicants

1.At least 1 high quality research publications or practical experience in the relevant field;

2.Excellent academic performance evidenced by a high Grade Point Average (GPA).


To discuss this role please contact Dr. Ilje Pikaar (, Prof. William Clarke or Dr. Paul Jensen To submit an application for this role, use the Apply button below. It is mandatory that all applicants MUST supply the following documents: Cover letter, your detailed resume and complete academic records (including GPA scores/grades, and grading scale details).


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