PhD project 'Low temperature anaerobic digestion for high salinity wastewater treatment': Ireland

Anaerobic digestion is an efficient and widely used process to treat wastes and wastewaters. In general, it is performed at mesophilic (25-37ºC) range. However, many industrial wastewaters are discharged at lower temperatures, and working in the mesophilic range implies energy consumption for heating it. Low temperature (<20°C) anaerobic digestion is an economically attractive alternative that has been shown to be feasible at laboratory and pilot-scale. Saline and hypersaline wastewaters are estimated to represent 5% of the worldwide effluent and result from industry activity, such as cheese production, fish processing and leather industry. High salinity it is known to be an inhibitor of methanogens, a key group of microorganisms in anaerobic digestion. The high salt concentrations can cause cell plasmolysis and cell death due to an increase in the osmotic pressure. However, given the advantages of anaerobic digestion such as methane evolution and low sludge production, it would be desirable if these wastewaters could be treated anaerobically.

We seek for highly motivated candidates to enrol a PhD project with the main objectives:

  1. study the feasibility of low temperature anaerobic digestion treating high saline wastewaters;
  2. process optimization by applying different salinity-acclimatized biomasses;
  3. understanding the microbial community dynamics and the salinity resistance behaviour.

Applications are invited from graduates with at least a 2.1 BSc or masters biology, microbiology, or a related field. Fluency in English is a requirement. Prior experience with reactor’s operation would be an advantage. The project will be undertaken in conjunction with the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) and the Dairy processing Technology centre. The work builds build on collaboration between the University and Wetsus. Supervisors: Dr Lara Paulo (NUIG) and Prof Vincent O’Flaherty (NUIG). Dr.  M. Cristina Gagliano (Wetsus, NL) will be involved as external advisor for the understanding of the microbial community aggregation and process dynamics. The student will be largely based in NUI Galway, with possible secondment at WETSUS Institute (The Netherlands), and the stipend is between €12,000 -18,000 per annum plus fees. The successful applicant will register in the NUI, Galway School of Natural Sciences Structured PhD Programme.

For further details please contact Dr. Lara Paulo (, or Prof. Vincent O’Flaherty (

Applications (e-mail only) by sending a CV and cover letter to: Prof. Vincent O’Flaherty (, Microbiology, NUI, Galway. Please use as email title ‘’Application to PhD in high salinity’’.

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