phd project

Engineering of biological activated carbon (BAC) filters for micropollutants removal in tertiary wastewater treatment.

Micropollutants have been identified as contaminants of concern present in municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent. They are not effectively removed in conventional municipal WWTPs because the WWTPs were not originally designed to remove these contaminants. The Dutch water partners are currently researching innovative technologies to remove these micropollutants through an extensive Innovation Program initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Dutch water authorities and managed by STOWA. Wetsus and partners have been investigating an optimized Biological Activated Carbon (BAC) treatment line as a promising tertiary treatment technology to improve micropollutants removal at WWTPs, both at lab- and pilot-scale. However, the influence of parameters such as reactor design, oxygen levels, backwashing regime and pre-treatment of the influent waters needs to be further investigated, especially in a real-world setting, i.e., using real wastewater effluent.

Research challenge
The BAC filters investigated in our work combine adsorption, oxidation, biodegradation, and precipitation processes. The research challenge of this new project is to quantify and understand these interdependent removal processes, to translating this knowledge into a filter design and operation optimised specifically for micropollutant removal.

An example of a parameter that needs to be optimised is biofilm thickness. In BAC filters, the surface of the granules is covered with a biofilm. This biofilm is essential for micropollutants degradation, as the biofilm matrix binds the micropollutants which are then degraded via the action of bacterial exoenzymes. However, uncontrolled biofilm growth results in clogging and mass transfer limitations. Excessive biofilm accumulation can be controlled by backwashing and by controlling the dissolved oxygen levels. Another design consideration is how to minimise detrimental effects of the bulk particulate and dissolved organics also present in the water, e.g., by applying pre-treatment of the influent water which can remove recalcitrant organics.

Your assignment
The main objective of the project is to try to predict the effect of key design and operational parameters on the micropollutant removal events in BAC filters, by studying the underlying mechanisms. To achieve this goal, your will work with both lab and pilot scale BAC filters, using different matrices and model compounds. In addition, the work will comprise physico-chemical and microbiological characterization of carbon granules and the attached biofilms.

Your profile
We are looking for a highly motivated and enthusiastic candidate with an MSc degree in Environmental Engineering, Chemical Engineering or equivalent. Additional knowledge of municipal wastewater, adsorption technology bioprocess engineering and/or biofilms (microbiology) is desirable. You are able to work in a multidisciplinary, international team. You are fluent in written and spoken English.

Keywords: Biodegradation, biofilms, granular activated carbon (GAC), adsorption, oxidation

Supervisory Team: University promotor and co-promotor: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nora B. Sutton (Wageningen University, Environmental Technology), Dr. Gabriel Sigmund (Wageningen University, Environmental Technology)
Wetsus supervisor: Dr. Amanda Larasati (granular activated carbon operation, micropollutants). Wetsus co-supervisor: M. Cristina Gagliano (biofilms characterization, microscopy techniques)

Project partners: Advanced Water Treatment

Only applications that are complete, in English, and submitted via the application webpage before the deadline will be considered eligible.

Guidelines for applicants:

Application form 2023.15: Engineering of biological activated carbon (BAC) filters for micropollutants removal in tertiary wastewater treatment

  • You can only apply to one research project and indicate your second and third preferences (if applicable). Fill in the number (not the title) of the project, e.g., 2023.15
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  • Fill in the number (not the title) of the project, e.g., 2023.15
    i.e., in the first 4 years of your research career (full time equivalent) and not have a doctoral degree.
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