Designing high performance algal-bacterial consortia for clean up of industrial wastes

Lead supervisor: Dr Jags Pandhal, Chemical and Biological Engineering
Co-supervisor(s): Dr Jim Gilmour, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology; Professor Will Zimmerman,
Chemical and Biological Engineering

Deadline: Thursday 30 March 2017

Applications for this project have now closed.

Project description

This project aims to isolate, characterise and then engineer microbial consortia of algae and bacteria to play a key role in waste treatment, whilst simultaneously generating resources for the horticulture industry. Microalgae have the ability to grow in wastewater but also use waste gases, including CO2 during photosynthesis. The project is in collaboration with industry and therefore will involve investigating real samples with the aim to develop real-life solutions to waste treatment. A key concept will be to promote a viable circular economy within the industry.

Microalgae are a diverse group of photosynthetic microorganisms that are currently exploited for generating a range of useful products within several industries e.g. food, nutraceutical and cosmetics. They have also generated significant interest as a sustainable source of liquid biofuels and as a soil restorer. One key aspect is the ability of strains to be able to grow in harsh conditions, a feature of manmade waste streams. This means microalgae can effectively clean up potentially eco-toxic wastes whilst simultaneously generating useful products.

This project is in collaboration with a horticultural company who have a large store of waste material suitable for treatment through pyrolysis. The by-products of this treatment process include CO2 and heat, useful inputs for algal cultivation. The potential to efficiently grow algae on this material will be a major element of the project. Microalgae survive in the environment as part of microbial consortia (e.g. with bacteria) interacting though a variety of mechanisms (e.g. metabolite exchange) and therefore these interactions will be exploited here. Challenges will be to isolate, characterise and optimise microbial consortia to efficiently undertake the process, deciphering the interactive mechanisms within microorganisms as well as effective delivery of the waste materials to enhance growth rates.

The student will receive training at the interface of chemical and biological engineering, crossing applied areas of environmental chemical analysis (analytical approaches), microbial consortia engineering and molecular biology. They will work closely with the industrial partner including a site placement during the final year.

Keywords: microbial community engineering, microalgae, resource recovery, waste treatment, bioremediation, biomanufacturing

Subject areas: Biological Engineering, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Environmental Engineering, Environmental Chemistry, Biotechnology, Algal Biotechnology, Metabolic Engineering, Waste Treatment

Funding notes

This four-year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year.  Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,336.