University of Exeter

Maximising the Potential of Waste Heat Recovery

Deadline: 13 August 2023

Project Description

The University of Exeter’s Department of Engineering is inviting applications for a fully funded PhD studentship to commence as soon as possible. The project aims to develop an optimisation toolbox that can maximise the potential of heat recovery from sewer networks. The Climate Change Act commits the UK to a net zero carbon emission by 2050, strongly encouraging the need to find alternative energy sources and utilise them effectively. Heat energy contributes significantly to carbon emissions and hence exploiting waste heat has the potential to result in considerable carbon reduction. The high wastewater flow rate in the vicinity of heat demand locations creates a great potential for sewer heat recovery. However, if heat Is removed, the consequent temperature reduction may compromise the effectiveness of downstream wastewater treatment. Furthermore, there is a usual mismatch between heat demand and availability in temporal terms. Existing computational models estimate the possible heat recovery from sewers while maintaining the quality of treatment. However, maximising the potential of heat recovery requires the optimisation of the heat exchange processes. The mechanism of heat extraction from wastewater in sewer pipes and its challenges need to be studied in-depth in order to design an effective heat exchanger while considering the geometry, materials and coolant properties. An advanced computational heat transfer model will be developed, applicable in steady and transient flow conditions, to simulate the performance of the heat recovery and possible storage techniques. The simulation will estimate the potential of meeting the seasonal and diurnal heat demand variations at a city scale and be calibrated using observed data. Therefore, the project may involve experimental and field studies. The project shall inform stakeholders (e.g. water companies and local councils) with the potential economic and environmental benefits of utilising wastewater heat recovery techniques. This can be achieved by interpreting the technical viability into financial returns and estimating the resulting carbon reduction.

Location: Streatham Campus, Exeter.

Funding Information

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £17,668 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend. The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in October 2023. International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.

Eligibility Requirements

Essentials: Obtained, or about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of engineering or science, e.g. civil, chemical, mechanical, or mathematics. Sound numerical and computational skills, e.g. MATLAB.

Desirables: A Master’s level qualification in a relevant discipline. Experience in computational modelling and/or optimisation.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the required level (Profile C) as per our guidance at

Application Process

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents: CV, letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project), transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying), names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted. If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English. The closing date for applications is midnight on Sunday 13th August 2023. Interviews will be held virtually in the week commencing 21st August.


For informal enquiries about the technical side of the project, please contact Dr Mohamad Abdel-Aal [email protected]. If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [email protected] or phone +44 (0)1392 722730. Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor – [email protected]. For further information or to apply click here –


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