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WaterRA currently has one student project requiring a student, please continue to check this page as it is updated regularly as projects become available.


Sponsored Project proposals are open all year round.  WaterRA invites students with the preferred skills or experience to submit applications for the projects below.  Scroll down or click on the links below to view all the projects seeking students...



Scholarship for PhD project open



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Project No


Project Title

Novel electrochemical treatment for mineralisation of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) for wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) end products


Melbourne Water | Greater Western Water

University of Melbourne


Lead: Dr Stefano Freguia

Co-Investigators: Dr Bradley Clarke | Dr Arash Zamyadi


Preferred Start Date

Semester 2 | July 2022


Eligibility Criteria

  • All students must be currently living in Australia
  • The successful candidate will be invited to submit an enrolment form at University of Melbourne.  Check the University of Melbourne website to ensure you are eligible for a primary scholarship before contacting the supervisor to discuss your experience.

Open to

  • Domestic and Permanent Resident Students residing in Australia at time of submission
  • International Students currently residing in Australia with suitable visas at time of submission 


$75,000 Scholarship Package over 3 years

$15,000 Top up stipend ($5K per annum)

$50,000 Equipment and operating allowance for project expenses

$5,000 Conference Support

$5,000 Professional Development Activities and Knowledge Sharing


Project Scope

The management of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) present in wastewaters treatment plants will be an ongoing challenge into the future of urban water management. CECs includes per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and a range of compounds from industrial and domestic sources that have large variation in concentrations and distributions between sewage sludge and treatment effluent making their management by water utilities difficult. CECs includes a broad range of chemical classes with a large variation in chemical properties, environment fate and impact, recalcitrance through treatment processes, as well as large variation in concentrations. For example, the concentration of total PFAS in typical sewage is very low, in the range of 10-500 ng/L1 while pharmaceuticals could be in the ug to mg/L range. With respect to PFAS, it is clear from the guidelines in the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan 2 (NEMP2) that many sewage treatment plants will not be compliant if guidelines are directly converted to regulations. Urban water utilities will therefore need to plan for additional treatment steps to target PFAS in both the effluent and biosolids.

Treatment of CECs can be done with diverse methods. Of these, electrochemical oxidation has shown to be very promising, as it is rapid and capable of fully mineralising recalcitrant chemicals groups such as PFAS at contact times of only seconds, when Magneli phase reactive electrochemical membrane systems are used 2. A limitation of electrochemical oxidation is their high capital cost if used to mineralise CECs from a dilute stream such as sewage and a pre-concentration step is necessary. Pre-concentration of CECs to mg/L levels prior to electrochemical oxidation is paramount to reduce the flows through the electrochemical system and thus keep the capital costs of treatment low. Concentration can be achieved through reverse osmosis into brines where this technology is used for water recycling 3. Alternatively, the high affinity of many CECs (particularly PFAS) for air-liquid interfaces can be exploited to effectively remove them from wastewater and pre-concentrate them into foams 4. This project will primarily explore the use of naturally occurring foaming process in activated sludge tanks as a tool for CEC separation.

This project aims to deliver scalable flow-through electrochemical cells based on Magneli phase ceramic membranes for complete mineralisation of indicator CECs (inc. PFAS) into CO2, and will explore pre-concentration options including foam fractionation and reverse osmosis/nanofiltration. We will set up a lab-scale rig at the University of Melbourne, Department of Chemical Engineering, where we will have the capability to test a broad diversity of end-products from sewage treatment plants across Australia, including secondary effluents, RO brines and foams.


Aims and Objectives

1. Assess the feasibility and extent of CEC removal (particularly PFAS) from wastewater through the naturally occurring foaming process in activated sludge plants.
2. Optimise the foaming process through chemical and biological additives to enhanced CEC removal.
3. Prove the concept of a reactive electrochemical membrane for the direct destruction of CECs from recovered foams and RO brines and quantify the effects of other wastewater components (solids, dissolved organics, salts).
4. Perform a preliminary techno-economic assessment of the electrochemical technology to inform a pilot design.



  • Quarterly progress meeting with research team and industry partners. 
  • 6 monthly progress review submitted to the industry partners. 
  • A final report outlining key findings which will be submitted in draft in early October to project partners, with final report submitted late December incorporating industry panel feedback.  


1.             Coggan, T. L. et al. An investigation into per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in nineteen Australian wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Heliyon (2019) doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02316.

2.             Shi, H. et al. Degraation of Perfluorooctanesulfonate by Reactive Electrochemical Membrane Compose of Magnéli Phase Titanium Suboxie. Environ. Sci. Technol. (2019) doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b04148.

3.             Shad, M. F., Juby, G. J. G., Sharbatmaleki, M. & Delagah, S. Evaluating occurrence of contaminants of emerging concerns in MF/RO treatment of primary effluent for water reuse – Pilot study. J. Water Reuse Desalin. (2019) doi:10.2166/wrd.2019.004.

4.             Robey, N. M., Da Silva, B. F., Annable, M. D., Townsend, T. G. & Bowden, J. A. Concentrating Per- And Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Leachate Using Foam Separation. Environ. Sci. Technol. (2020) doi:10.1021/acs.est.0c01266.


Required Experience

• Degree in Chemical or Environmental Engineering
• Previous research experience through honours, undergraduate thesis or a Master by research
• Solid background knowledge of chemistry and electrochemistry
• Knowledge of wastewater treatment processes


University of Melbourne - Parkville
Department of Chemical Engineering


Applications Close 
Thursday, 17 February 2022



Students are encouraged to contact the Academic supervisor, Stefano Freguia stefano.freguia @ unimelb.edu.au from 8 February 2022 before submitting a WaterRA  application form to ensure you have the right skill set and/or experience to undertake the project.


Interview Process

Shortlisted students will be contacted by the supervisor.  The successful candidate will be invited to submit an enrolment form at University of Melbourne.


Student Application

Download the Student Application here.

Refer to Student Information for further details regarding the application process and WaterRA benefits.

Student Applications are to be emailed to Carolyn Bellamy


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