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PhD Studentship - Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC)-based sensor platforms for remote monitoring of a wide range of environments

Civil, Maritime & Environmental Engineering

Location:  Highfield Campus
Closing Date:  Wednesday 31 August 2022
Reference:  1779922DA

Supervisory Team:    Yannis Ieropoulos, Yue Zhang

Project description

This PhD is will investigate a novel approach for the monitoring and sensing of essential nutrients and other analytes in a wide range of environments by the deployment of 'living sensors'. This will involve the development of living Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) that are self-sustainable and capable of long-term deployment in remote and/or hostile areas. MFCs are bioelectrochemical transducers that convert biochemical energy locked in organic matter, directly into electricity, which can then be used in different applications. MFC bioreactors consist of an anodic half-cell or electron-source, in which live bacteria grow on an anode electrode, and a cathodic half-cell or electron-sink, which may be open to air. The two half-cells are separated by a semi-permeable membrane, which also allows the movement of ions, to maintain equilibrium conditions. MFCs can produce electricity from low grade organic waste such as sludge, insects, plant-material and detritus, through the metabolic reactions of growing microbes (biofilms) on electrodes. Multiple MFCs (stacks) can provide the necessary energy platform that would enable the long-term continuous deployment of conventional low power sensing technologies (e.g. temperature, pH, water levels, moisture, conductivity, CO2) as well as wireless communication. More importantly, MFCs (when configured in the right way) can also act as sensing devices in their own right, being capable of detecting (and measuring in real-time) a wide range of different compounds. The proposed research will focus on strategies around differential sensing of e.g. (C, N, K, P, S or even tryptophan), by designing the MFC units/cascades and controlling the circulatory perfusate composition to one where all essential elements are in excess amounts except for the target analyte (e.g. tryptophan or bioavailable-N) that is depleted from the circulatory perfusate. Biofilm electrodes/bio-membranes will be fabricated and biofilm communities will be trained for specific analytes to be used in a MFC sensor for detecting such compounds in wastewater. This project has the potential to develop a new generation of long-life living biosensors, that are self-sustainable and can operate in remote environments – so-called “release & forget” missions – sending valuable data to users, which can be used for environmental monitoring and repair.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Yannis Ieropoulos, Water & Environmental Engineering Research Group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 2845.

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent).

Closing date: applications should be received no later than 31 August 2022 for standard admissions, but later applications may be considered depending on the funds remaining in place.

Funding: For UK students, Tuition Fees and a stipend of £16,062 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years. 

How To Apply

Applications should be made online. Select programme type (Research), 2022/23, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, next page select “PhD  Engineering & Environment (Full time)”. In Section 2 of the application form you should insert the name of the supervisor Yannis Ieropoulos 

Applications should include

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online:

For further information please contact: 




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