University of Exeter funding: This project is self funded.

Fate of engineered nanomaterials in waste water treatment plants. Self funded PhD in Mining and Minerals Engineering Ref: 3553

About the Research Project


Lead Supervisor

Dr Richard Crane, Camborne School of Mines, College of Engineering Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Professor Tom Scott, Interface Analysis Centre, School of Physics, University of Bristol

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE

Project details

The nanotechnology industry is now valued at over one trillion US dollars and the global annual production of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) now exceeds several hundred thousand tonnes [1], [2]. It is clear that ENMs pose immense benefits for society, however, it is now well-established that many different types of ENM also pose serious adverse effects on the environment and human health [3]. In addition many larger materials are also known to undergo environmental degradation into nanomaterial form (e.g. the degradation of bulk scale plastic into nanoplastic [4]).

Given the fact that waste water treatment plants (WWTPs) are likely one of the foremost recipients of ENMs an accurate understanding of their occurrence, behaviour and fate in such systems is urgently required. More specifically we currently have no idea where the ENMs are currently being discharged and therefore their likely environmental impact.

This project will provide this urgently required data by undertaking a major sample collection campaign at WWTPs around the UK. Mass balance will then be applied to determine the extent at which different ENMs can either penetrate through the entire water treatment process (i.e. end up being discharged within the “treated water” and therefore into either riverine or coastal marine environments) or become concentrated within biosolids (and then subsequently spread onto agricultural land).

This information is critically required in order to then understand the likely mechanisms for associated environmental and human health impact and thereby shape both future UK legislation and industry best practice for ENM removal.

Project Aims and Methods

The overarching aim of this project is to provide critically required baseline data on the occurrence, behaviour and fate of ENMs in UK WWTPs.

The project will aim to:
i. Quantify the current flux of different ENMs at each stage of the WWTP process; 
ii. Identify the mechanisms which govern ENM behaviour and fate with each stage of the WWTP process; and
iii. Assimilate data from aims (i) and (ii) in order to provide preliminary data for the creation of a “nanopollution risk” map for the UK.

A major component of this project will be the collection of samples (water and biosolids) from WWTPs at various locations across the UK in addition to soil samples located adjacent to WWTP effluent discharge zones (in order to determine potential ENM “hot spots”). Various advanced laboratory based analytical techniques will then be applied in order to detect and characterise any ENMs present in such media.

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, contact Dr Richard Crane:

References / Background reading list

[1]  Keller AA, Lazareva A. Predicted releases of engineered nanomaterials: from global to regional to local. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 2013 Oct 15;1(1):65-70.
[2] Lourtioz JM, Lahmani M, Dupas-Haeberlin C, Hesto P. Nanosciences and Nanotechnology. Evolution or Revolution. 2016.
[3]  Soni D, Naoghare PK, Saravanadevi S, Pandey RA. Release, transport and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles. InReviews of environmental contamination and toxicology 2015 (pp. 1-47). Springer, Cham.
[4]  da Costa JP, Santos PS, Duarte AC, Rocha-Santos T. (Nano) plastics in the environment–sources, fates and effects. Science of The Total Environment. 2016 Oct 1;566:15-26.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project

How to apply

To apply, please use the 'Apply Now' button above.

You will need to upload the following documents to the application form. Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”:

Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience. You should also indicate your 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.
Two references (see Reference information section below)
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

Reference information

If possible, please upload your references to the online application form. If your referees would prefer to send their reference directly to the University, please ask them to send these via email to

References should be in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on 03 June 2019


Application deadline:3rd June 2019
Duration of award:Not applicable
Contact: PGR Enquiries