School of Engineering

Staff Profile

Dr Jan Dolfing

Senior Researcher in Environmental Engineering



Joined the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle in 2006 as part of ECOSERV, an EU-funded excellence team integrating molecular measurement methods, ecological theories, and mathematics to determine fundamental rules that govern the behaviour of biological treatment communities.

His research interests focus on the thermodynamic logic behind microbial interactions in anaerobic ecosystems (with applications in anaerobic wastewater treatment, methanogenic bioreactors and microbial fuel cells).

Area of expertise
  • Environmental biotechnology

PhD Microbiology (Wageningen University, 1987) 
MEng Environmental Engineering (Wageningen University, 1980) 

Professional Experience

Engineer with over 30 years experience in environmental applications of chemistry and biology. Well known for his pioneering work on reductive dechlorination.

Authored numerous reports on anaerobic digestion, emission of greenhouse gases, and immobilisation of heavy metals.

Ongoing projects include reductive dechlorination of chlordecone, a legacy compound used for pest control in the French West Indies.  

Previous Positions

Post-doc at Michigan State University, USA
Post-doc at EAWAG/ETH in Switzerland
Post-doc at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Senior scientist at Alterra, Wageningen, the Netherlands


Dutch Society for Microbiology
International Society for Microbial Ecology
American Society for Microbiology

Google scholar: Click here.
ORCID: Click here.


Research interests

My main interest is in the applicability and application of thermodynamic logic to microbial processes and interactions in methanogenic ecosystems.

Simple high school chemistry goes a long way to explaining and indeed understanding the hierarchy of microbial niches in the environment and the processes that these organisms catalyse. This approach resulted in, for example, the formulation of the hypothesis that microorganisms can obtain energy for growth from reductive dechlorination of halogenated organic compounds, a hypothesis that was subsequently experimentally validated.

Other examples are the rationalisation of why syntrophs in methanogenic ecosystems catalyse incomplete oxidation of organic compounds to acetate and H2, and the “window of opportunity” concept for the methanogenic biodegradation of crude oil.

Current ideas revolve around a more in-depth understanding of the interactions and ecophysiology of the organisms involved in interspecies hydrogen transfer. Ultimately, this modelling and experimentation based understanding will allow us to better engineer or engineer better anaerobic wastewater treatment systems.

Postgraduate supervision

Liz Heidrich has successfully defended her PhD thesis Evaluation of microbial electrolysis cells in the treatment of domestic wastewater.

Evangelos Petropoulos has successfully defended his PhD thesis on anaerobic treatment of domestic wastewater at low temperatures.

Sarah Cotterill  has successfully defended her DEng thesis on the viability of microbial electrolysis cell technology for wastewater treatment.

Fei Zhao works on bioelectrochemical system treating real wastewater.

Sarah Flint is investigating the ecology of putative estrogen degraders in the aqueous environment.

Priscilla Carrillo-Barragan works on consolidated bioprocessing of municipal solid waste for ethanol production.

Daniel Aiken works on rational design of bio-electrochemical systems.

Oladapo Komolafe is researching engineering sustainable micro pollutant removal technologies.

Oluwaseun Bolaji works on fungal use for ruminant feeds.

Carl Simon works on optimisation of a two-stage anaerobic digestion process using modelling and modern control techniques.

Esteem Indicators

Reviewer for NERC, EPSRC and BBSRC.

Member of the editorial board of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Invited speaker:

  • Granulation in UASB reactors at Anaerobic Digestion in Tropical Countries, Sao Paulo, 1985;
  • Hydrogen cycling in dechlorinating ecosystems at ACS, Washington 2000;
  • Reductive dechlorination of Chlordecone at Chlordecone in the French West Indies, 2010.
Funded projects

Engineering synthetic microbial communities for biomethane production: BBSRC 2013-2018, £715,526

What is the true temperature limit for the anaerobic treatment of domestic wastewater? EPSRC 2009-2012, £654,848

Energy-use minimization in residuals management in the personal care product industry: EU FP7 2008-2011, £198,839

Can understanding the emergent behaviour of mixed culture systems aid wastewater system design and operation? EPSRC 2007-2009, £151,494


Undergraduate Teaching

CEG2101 Water and Wastewater Treatment

Postgraduate Teaching

CEG8104 Wastewater Engineering

CEG8108 Conceptual Design

CEG8109 Engineering Biology through Molecular Ecology

CEG8198 MSc Dissertation Projects

Capita Selecta on Anaerobic Wastewater Treatment