School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences

Engineered Biological Systems

Engineered Biological Systems

Overview

Engineered biological treatments such as wastewater treatment plants are amazing. Thousands of different types of seemingly anonymous micro-organisms come together in an engineered space to remove pollutants.

Most of the time, these engineered systems work, but occasionally they fail. Successful biological treatment is critical as it remains one of the most cost-effective processes for pollutant removal.

We believe that all biological treatment plants operate to essentially the same rules. Therefore, understanding the rules that govern microbial communities is key to their successful design and operation.

Microbial ecology provides a new scientific basis for engineering better systems. We are applying a synthesis of ecological theories and DNA-based molecular measurement tools to understand and predict how microbial communities assemble, change over time and respond to nutrients and other resources.

In addition, our research focuses on integrating quantitative microbial data into simple process models for microorganisms involved in specific process functions or problems.

Current projects

Academic staff

Researchers

Professional support

ECOSERV

This project focuses on the application of molecular biological tools, ecological theory and mathematics to develop alternate approaches for the design and operation of all types of biological wastewater treatment systems.

Project leaders

Project details

The project includes the following research themes:

  • assessing relationships among system size, biodiversity and operational stability in wastewater treatment units
  • studying physical, chemical and ecological factors that influence community assembly in biofilms and flocs in bioreactors
  • examining resource-supply and controls on selection of organisms for efficient nutrient cycling and exclusion of nuisance organisms
  • evaluating community biodiversity and biogeography as related to the fate and effects of low-level bioactive compounds in environmental systems

Academic staff

ENERMIN

The purpose of ENERMIN is to develop alternate residuals management technologies for the personal care product industry that will broadly reduce energy use.

Project leaders

In cooperation with L'Oreal Paris (France) and ACS-Umwelttechnik (Germany)

Project details

All industries produce residuals during normal operation, and the handling of such materials is a regular component of business activity. Traditionally, such residuals are treated prior to disposal.

However, most residual processing methods are designed to reduce residual mass rather than minimise energy use, which is a growing problem as the cost of energy continues to rise.

As an example, up to 10% of the energy cost of a personal care product manufacturing plant (PCP) is used in residual management.

Given this high cost, residual handling methods must be re-evaluated and made more energy efficient to reduce costs, but also to make these processes more environmentally friendly.

The purpose of ENERMIN is to develop alternate residuals management technologies for the PCP industry that will broadly reduce energy use.

Although this is a valuable technical goal, the second major intention of this work is to stimulate interactions between a world-leading academic group (Newcastle University, United Kingdom), a large corporation (L'Oreal Industries, France), and a SME (ACS-Umwelttechnik, Germany) while generating technologies that can be translated broadly to small and large operations inside and outside of the PCP industry.

Academic staff

Researchers

Wastewater Treatment Plant Design

Platform funding will help us realise our vision for profoundly changing the way the engineering of wastewater treatment and other engineered biological systems is approached.

Project leader

Professor Tom Curtis

Project details

We believe we can develop a new and universal suite of theories as a basis for design. This will allow engineers to understand, predict and manipulate the principal ecological phenomena that dictate performance.

We believe our vision is unique, original and fundamental in nature.

The platform funding will secure the multidisciplinary synergies between research and academic staff within the proposed platform group. It will also facilitate synergies between the group and other leading national and international players.

We secured this prestigious funding by showing that we had the requisite vision, funding track record and reputation.

Academic staff

Researchers

Support