Study As
Full Time

Principal Supervisor
Haolan Xu

Main Campus
Mawson Lakes

Applications Close
06 Jun 2024

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate or International Candidate

Tuition Fees:

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

Project Stipend:
$32,500 p.a. (2024 rate) available to domestic and international applicants

About This Project 

Clean water is a strategically important resource. However, clean water scarcity currently threatens the survival and development of humankind. Currently, about 1.8-2.9 billion people are suffering from severe freshwater shortages for at least 4 months of the year. In Australia, although there are reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plants in major cities to provide potable water, remote Australians still lack access to quality drinking water, since the running and maintenance cost of RO systems in remote areas is too high. Therefore, developing a cost-effective, off-grid and easily deployable desalination technology is imperative to mitigate clean water shortages countrywide. Interfacial solar evaporation (ISE)-based seawater desalination technology offers an ideal solution to clean water supply for remote areas and small communities. However, whilst only using sunlight to drive ISE desalination is a green and sustainable process, on rainy and cloudy days or at nighttime, the evaporation and clean water production rates dramatically drop due to the lack of solar energy input, although water demand doesn’t correspondingly decrease. This project will develop advanced evaporators powered by multiple energy sources which will be sustainable and low-cost to run under various weather conditions to produce clean water. The specific objectives are: 

1. To design and fabricate multi-functional photothermal evaporators that can be driven by sunlight, thermal energy from bulk water and surrounding air, and optional Joule heating to stably deliver clean water production even without sunlight. 

2. To examine the energy nexus of the developed evaporators to optimize materials, evaporators, and desalination devices to improve clean water production. 

3. To produce and test the devices using various water sources including seawater, bore water, brackish water, river water and underground water under different weather conditions.

What you’ll do 

The anticipated outcomes of this project include 

1) the fundamental knowledge, especially the in-depth insight into the energy nexus of 3D evaporation systems and the methodology developed for energy nexus investigation will fill the gap of the research field; 

2) development of a low-cost, off-grid and easily deployable solar evaporation-based desalination technology which can operate under all weather conditions for reliable and affordable clean water supply in remote areas in Australia and millions of people worldwide. 

The outcomes of this project are expected to result in one patent and 5-8 high-quality publications in Q1 journals (e.g., Advanced Materials, Advanced Functional Materials, Nano Energy etc.) based on the supervisors’ strong expertise and excellent publication record in recent years. The outcomes of this project will pave the way for the further development of solar evaporation-based desalination technology to break through the performance limitations and promote the potential practical applications for clean water supply. It will contribute to the current strength of research of Advanced Manufacturing and Energy at UniSA. If the developed system is applied across Australia in the future, it will bring significant social and economic impacts.

This project will contribute to sustainable environmental and economic development in Australia. The project aligns well with the following Australian Science and Research priorities and their Practical Challenges: 

(1) Energy, in respect of current strength of "solar thermal technologies" and the future Practical Challenges of "New clean energy sources and storage technologies that are efficient, cost-effective and reliable", and 

(2) Soil and Water, in response to the Practical Challenges of "minimizing damage to, and developing solutions for restoration and remediation of soil, fresh and potable water". 

Where you’ll be based 

The project also aligns well with UniSAs vision to encourage and sustain research that is inspired by real challenges and opportunities, partnered with and responsive to industry and its end-users that is, above all, underpinned by excellence. Of direct relevance to this project are UniSAs research themes of "Transforming Industries" and "Scarce Resources" that outline the desire to develop high value-add and transformative innovative industries, and to implement sustainable strategies and solutions that restore, protect and optimize environmental resources, including clean water. 

Professor Haolan Xu has established an advanced functional materials laboratory with state-of-the-art facilities for functional materials and solar-thermal energy conversion and desalination research. The facilities available in FII are world-class, which can solidly support this project. Principal Xu is currently working on ARC Future fellowship, DP and ARC industry hub projects to develop solar evaporation-based desalination devices. This PhD project will render the desalination device an extra food production function, which is extremely important for distributed water-food supply for remote areas. He has supervised 14 PhD students to completion. 

Dr Xuan Wu is a female MCR with many years research experience on interfacial solar evaporation technologies. She has published 45 highly quality peer-reviewed papers in the top tier journal such as Adv. Mater., Adv. Funct. Mater., Adv. Sci., Nano Energy etc., with 14 ESI Highly Cited Paper, a total citation of 1348 and an h-index of 29. She won the competitive UniSA Postdoctoral fellow in 2023. She has been granted ARC DP and involved in a number of industry projects on the study and application of interfaical solar evaporation technologies. 

Dr Gary Owens is working in the field of environmental nanotechnology and contaminant dynamics with > 27 years' multidisciplinary research experience. He has published >200 peer-reviewed articles in high-impact international journals (h-index 55, > 13000 cit.).

Supervisory team

Financial Support 

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $32,500 per annum is available to eligible applicants. 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 for domestic students or international students.

Eligibility and Selection 

This project is open to application from both Domestic and International applicants.

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. Additionally applicants must meet the projects selection criteria: 
  • Research experience in functional materials and energy conversion
All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project. A merit selection process will be used to determine the successful candidate.

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time and to be based at our Mawson Lakes Campus in the north of Adelaide. Note that international students on a student visa will need to study full-time.

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 Thursday 6 June 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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