University of Exeter funding: QUEX PhD Studentship

Towards “Precision Mining” of wastewater: Development of modular electrochemical systems for the in situ upcycling of acid mine drainage into functional nanoproducts. PhD Mining and Mineral Engineering, PhD Studentship (Funded by the QUEX Institute) Ref: 3897

About the award


Lead Supervisor - Dr Rich Crane, Lecturer in Sustainable Mining, University of Exeter

Second Supervisor - Dr Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Senior Research Fellow, University of Queensland

Additional Supervisor - Professor Karen Hudson-Edwards, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants.  The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD studentships

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of:  Healthy Living, Global Environmental Futures and Digital Worlds and Disruptive Technologies.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 31 August 2020 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 12 October 2020.  The start date is expected to be April 2021.

Please note that of the eight Exeter led projects advertised, we expect that up to four studentships will be awarded to Exeter based students.

Project Description

The problem:

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is an acidic solution created by the oxidation of sulphide minerals, typically associated with areas of legacy metalliferous and coal mining. It is an extremely widespread environmental issue, and often ranked alongside climate change, microplastics and ocean acidification in terms of global ecological risk. 

In the UK the vast majority of mining activity ceased several decades ago, however, as much as 6% of all surface water bodies are still currently adversely affected by AMD. A similar but larger scale scenario exists in Australia where widespread historic and current mining activity has resulted in a total annual AMD management cost of approximately $500m AUD. 

Despite such widespread environmental and financial cost AMD often contains dissolved metals and metalloids (hereafter metals) which would be beneficial to recover (e.g. Fe, Cu, Ni, Zn). An intrinsic barrier, however, is that they are often present at relatively low concentrations (e.g. <10 mg/L) and as such their recovery and conversion to bulk and/or sheet metal is not typically economically viable.

The solution:

This PhD project will focus, for the first time, on the integration of electrokinetics, physical forces (namely: microwave energy and ultrasonic energy) and/or low concentration reagents (emulsifiers, chelating agents, complexing agents, etc.) in order to develop next generation field deployable endof-pipe “modules” for the selective and precise self-assembly of functional nanomaterials from AMD, using minimal (or ideally zero) chemical additives. This process, known as “upcycling” will, if successful, enable the direct conversion of metals within AMD into high value products and thereby unlock an entirely new economic incentive for such AMD treatment. 

Alignment with QUEX and the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

The project is closely aligned with the QUEX “Global Environmental Futures” and UN Sustainable Development Goals: (6) Clean Water and Sanitation; (9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; and (14) Life Below Water. In particular, the research will strive towards development of new technology in order to transform a globally significant and retractable environment problem into a new resource. Close involvement of Steven Morris (DEFRA, UK), Hugh Potter (EA, UK).

Entry requirements

Applicants should be highly motivated and have, or expect to obtain, either a first or upper-second class BA or BSc (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline.

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.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, supporting statement, academic transcripts and two academic references. Your supporting statement should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project, with particular reference to the collaborative nature of the partnership with the University of Queensland, and how this will enhance your training and research.

Applicants who are chosen for interview will be notified week commencing 5 October 2020, and must be available for interview week commencing 12 October 2020.

Please quote reference 3897 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:31st August 2020
Value:Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £15,000 are available over the 3.5 year studentship
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office