Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Dr Ben Van den Akker

Main Campus
Mawson Lakes

Applications Close
29 May 2024

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate

Tuition Fees:

All domestic students are eligible for a fee waiver. Find out more about fees and conditions.

Project Stipend:
$32,500 p.a. (2024 rates) available to domestic applicants only

About this project

Help measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the wastewater industry 

If you are motivated to forge a career in environmental engineering and passionate about developing cutting-edge ways to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the University of South Australia – Australia’s University of Enterprise – is offering a hands-on project-based PhD with worldwide impact within Sustainable Infrastructure and Resource Management (SIRM), in partnership with the University of Queensland, SA Water, and many other Australian Water Utilities.

The urban water sector contributes to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Consequently, both international and national GHG reporting protocols mandate that wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) must report their emissions.  

Australian water utilities also face regulatory requirements to either reduce or achieve net-zero emissions. However, quantifying and reducing scope 1 emissions (nitrous oxide and methane) released from WWTPs present a challenge for these utilities.  

For instance, nitrous oxide (N2O), a by-product released during the biological nitrogen removal step, can account for over 70% of a WWTP’s emissions. It is difficult and costly to directly measure N2O, so water utilities rely on generic emission factors to estimate and report their emissions. Unfortunately, generic emission factors often result in under- or over-estimations of true emissions.  

This PhD project will support an Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage project which aims to develop the first systematic framework for measuring and reducing scope 1 emissions from WWTPs. We will develop a standardised monitoring protocol and conduct a nationwide sampling campaign across multiple WWTPs to quantify direct GHG emissions.  

The data will be used to calibrate and validate a novel hybrid model that integrates mechanistic modelling with deep learning techniques to accurately estimate and predict emissions. We will also propose effective mitigation strategies to reduce emissions under different operational and biological conditions. 

What you’ll do

You will become part of SIRM, joining a vibrant and collegial research cohort. You will also have the opportunity to collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of academics and PhD students from both UniSA and the University of Queensland. As this is a highly collaborative project, you will also gain exposure to  Australian water industry partners.  

You will work closely with SA Water and undertake field work at South Australian wastewater treatment plants. These opportunities and hands-on experience will strengthen your communication and networking skills and position you well post-graduation.   

Where you’ll be based

You will be based at SIRM. We undertake research in physical infrastructure management and the sustainable management of assets. SIRM applies circular economy philosophy and carbon reduction solutions to ensure sustainable communities throughout the world. 

SIRM recognises that the challenge of moving to a more sustainable future requires an understanding of the complexity and interactions of human, natural, and built systems. We bring together diverse research expertise to address significant societal challenges at the interface of the natural and built environments at all scales. We offer clients the potential to address real problems using multidisciplinary teams. Our goal is to efficiently use resources to manage the natural and built environments sustainably. 

Our members include world-leading researchers in sustainable management and systems analysis, as well as experts in various disciplines of science and engineering ranging from environmental, construction, transportation, food, social, and community.  

We are involved in research construction projects in both water and transport supporting liveable regions / regional economic growth.  We also undertake research in the maintenance aspect of assets (physical infrastructure management), sustainable management of assets in tactical asset management (interface between strategic and operational management), integrating the circular economy philosophy, and applying carbon reduction considerations. We work in ecology, environmental restoration, planning for liveable cities and regions, and building carbon-resilient regenerative communities.

Supervisory team

University of Queensland
Financial Support

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $32,500 per annum is available to Australian and New Zealand citizens, and permanent residents of Australia, including permanent humanitarian visa holders. Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants will be eligible to receive an increased stipend rate of $50,291 per annum. A fee-offset or waiver for the standard term of the program is also included. For full terms and benefits of the scholarship please refer to our scholarship information.

Eligibility and Selection

This project is open to applications from Australian or New Zealand citizens, and Australian permanent residents or permanent humanitarian visa holders. International applicants are not invited to apply at this time.

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. Additionally applicants must meet the projects selection criteria:
  • Hold an Honours, Master or equivalent degree in a relevant field such as Science, Microbiology, Environmental Engineering or a related discipline 
  • Skills and experience in one or more of the following areas: Process Engineering; Wastewater treatment and water quality; Mathematical modelling and simulation; or Analytical skills related to environmental microbiology or chemistry
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills, including the ability to communicate scientific concepts to both technical and non-technical audiences
  • Experience in project management, including planning, execution, and reporting of research projects
  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Experience in statistical analysis and data interpretation
All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project.

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time and to be based at our Mawson Lakes campus in the north of Adelaide.

Essential Dates

Applicants are expected to start in a timely fashion upon receipt of an offer. Extended deferral periods are not available. Applications close on Wednesday 29 May 2024.  

How to apply:

Applications must be lodged online, please note UniSA does not accept applications via email.

For further support see our step-by-step guide on how to apply , or contact the Graduate Research team on +61 8 8302 5880, option 1 or email us at You will receive a response within one working day.

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