Development of Solar Powered Membrane Desalination Unit – Renewable Energy - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2928

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Dr Senthil Sundaram, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter
Professor Tapas Mallick
, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter

Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Project Description
Membrane desalination (MD) is a thermally driven water purification process with an operating temperature of 40 to 80˚C. The solar powered MD is attractive not only to water desalination but also to food industries, medical fields, and to environmental applications such as the removal of benzene and heavy metals from water. This proposal intends to build a system with solar powered MD for water purification. This is a stand-alone system which is combining concentrated photovoltaics thermal (CPV/T) and suitable reverse osmosis pump with smart controller to provide potable water from salt water and/or brackish-water. The system will be designed to operate at a temperature of up to 80˚C which is a lower operating temperature than that of conventional distillation technologies. It also operates under a lower hydrostatic pressure than that of other membrane processes. This will give economically competitive technology in remote locations especially in India.

The overall aim of the project is to develop and demonstrate a reilable, high efficient and cost effective MD desalination system based on concentrated photovoltaic and thermal (CPV/T) energy collectors, with a combined electrical/thermal efficiency of over 75%. The targeted efficiency improvement for the desalination unit is predicted to be between 2% to 4%. Following tasks will be undertaken during the studentship:

Task 1: Undertake state-of-the-art literature review for solar powered desalination technologies (0-6 months)
Task 2: Carryout several experiments of nano-porous membrane for different particle combination and its stability, such as TiO2, ZnO, and Ag samples (0-12 months)

Task 3: Improve the existing integrated model for heat transfer through the nano-porous membrane (6-20 months)
Task 4: Setup an experimental base for MD integrated CPV system for wide range of weather conditions (18-30 months), including outdoor performance analysis for three months at the Solar Lab, Penryn Campus.
Task 5: Numerical and experimental model validation and parametric analysis (30-36 months)
Task 6: Thesis writing and PhD submission towards, viva and required amendments to be before end of the project.

The candidate will have several trainings such as numerical analysis using COMSOL and Matlab for heat transfer analysis of the MD unit, and also will have experimental techniques such as SEM/TEM analysis for porosity measurements, solar simulators and quantum efficiency equipments for photovoltaic performance measurement and adaptive heat transfer measurements.

Entry Requirements
The applicant should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Physics/Engineering/Material Science, having ability to work both simulation and experimentation.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim
        transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email:
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.