Our new PhD candidate, Victor Birlanga

We’ve welcomed our latest PhD candidate to the lab. Victor Birlanga is working on a new project funded by Irish Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine with Dr Cindy Smith (The University of Glasgow). Victor will also be co-supervised bVictor Laby Prof Grace McCormack (Zoology, NUI Galway), and colleagues at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

Victor will investigate the microbiology of amoeboid gill disease (AGD) in Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar). salmo-salar-a028_p6_0The aetiological agent is the amoeba, Neoparamoeba perurans, but Victor will work on the microbiome of healthy and affected fish to determine the associated microbiology.

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New paper: Bioreactor scalability: laboratory-scale idealisation influences performance, ecology and community physiology in expanded granular sludge bed bioreactors

Our new paper from former PhD student in our group (and now Lecturer at The University of Glasgow), Dr Stephanie Connelly, is online with Frontiers in Microbiology. Recognising that laboratory-scale reactor design is likely to influence both performance and underlying physiology and ecology, we designed two laboratory-scale bioreactor idealisations –  ‘1-D’ and ‘3-D’ bioreactors – for this study to mimic a full-scale bioreactor in the lab and to enable evaluation of scale effects.


Stephanie’s paper is part of Frontiers‘ Research Topic on Anaerobic Digestion and will soon appear in an e-book.

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Has India’s Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan (SBA) actually worked for women and children?

medium_Mehta-at-CFS42_medProfessor Lyla Mehta at the Institute of Development Studies, UK, discusses in this interview how the Indian government needs to move away from a narrow focus on open defecation-free India, to address issues of rights to sanitation, sustainability and equity to ensure universal access to sanitation.


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Marie Skłodowska-Curie opportunity

We wish to sponsor an applicant for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Fellowship.

We are looking for a postdoctoral researcher with a highly competitive record, who would prepare an application with us for a European Fellowship, with a view
to joining our research at NUI Galway.  You can find more details here.

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Our new paper in Water Research

Our new paper will be in the 15th September issue of Water Research and is available online now.

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Visit to Clean Team Ghana

This week I’ve been visiting Clean Team Ghana, a “sanitation enterprise” based in Kumasi, Ghana. I visited along with colleagues – Alison Parker and Ben Martin – from Cranfield Univeristy. Alison and Ben are involved with a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ‘Re-invent the Toilet’ project and they have established solid links with Clean Team.
Clean Team is engaged in the provision of sanitation services to low-income households in Ghana. They are unapologetically focused on the ‘enterprise’ aspect of sanitation; sure – it is motivated by a desire to make big change to sanitation practices, as well as an acute sensitivity to the aspirations and desires of the ‘customers’, but it is also based on the notion that the service should be economically sustainable. The system involves the provision of toilet units to households; the units look like a conventional WC but aren’t plumbed or connected to a sewer; instead, a removable container collects the faecal solids, while urine is diverted away from the collection system.
Clean Team is currently developing treatment systems for the safe disposal of the faecal solids and Cranfield University will test several bioreactor designs in situ at the municipal wastewater treatment site at Kumasi this summer.
This week, we met with the CEO and several of the team at Clean Team Ghana. We visited the Clean Team offices and the collection centre – where all of the containers (which are collected from the toilets) arrive and are combined for subsequent transport to the treatment site. The situation is not ideal, but the team knows this and is working to evolve and improve the approach and system. It’s exciting times at Clean Team!
We also visited the homes of some of Clean Team’s customers. Several people kindly allowed us to enter their homes to view their toilets and to hear about their experiences of using the system and the service. By and large, they are content with their toilets. An absolutely key element of the success of Clean Team, and of any such enterprise, will be the continue listening closely to the views, concerns and aspirations of their customers.

One of the challenges for our Transforming Waste Project in Lusaka will be to integrate our treatment processes with containment, collection and transport aspects of sanitation. I hope that there’ll be interesting opportunities for us and Clean Team to exploit together in the future.


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Next Zambian visit for Transforming Waste Project

Our ‘Transforming Waste Project’ will be back in Lusaka, Zambia again soon. I’ve been in touch with Lyla Mehta (Institute for Development Studies, Brighton, UK) and Kamal Kar (Chairman, the Community-Led Total Sanitation Foundation) and we’ll visit during the first week of May.

This next phase of our project will focus more on the containment and transport of faecal solids from peri-urban compounds to the site of our planned anaerobic digester at Kanyama.

Meanwhile, we’re moving along with lab- and pilot-scale trails of our new digester technology at Galway. Our nutrient recovery trials are also progressing at Cranfield University. Our pilot-scale trials at Kanyama, Lusaka are planned for the summer.

I’m excited that Lyla and Kamal will join me in Lusaka – their vast experience in sanitation will be invaluable for our various stakeholders meetings. More on this soon.


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News from the COST Action (ES1302) Meeting, Porto (5-7th March)

Our COST Action on ‘The Ecological roles of Trace Metals in Anaerobic Biotechnologies’ (COST Action ES1302) held its first set of Working Group (WG) meetings and Management Committee meeting last week in Porto, Portugal.

Our venue was the CIIMAR (Centre for Interdisciplinary Marine and Environmental Research – Centro Interdisciplinar De Investigação Marinha E Ambiental) at the University of Porto.

Our COST Action has four WGs – on metal speciation and bioavailability; microbiology; engineering and industry challenges; fate of trace metal in the environment; and modeling. I’m really pleased that we seem set to integrate the activities of the WGs in very real ways and I’m looking forward to helping lead the Microbiology WG to important outputs.

A big focus of the Action is trace metals in anaerobic digestion (AD) technologies. The impact of trace metals is significant for industrial operators of AD plants and metal dosing strategies are important for optimal biogas production. Thus, learning more about the roles of trace metals in AD systems is an interesting research area; furthermore, the fate of metals from AD plants after discharge to the environment is also important and the area opens the possibility of closing the loop to recover metals back for AD supplementation.

Our PhD student, Robert Dillon, is now the secretary of the Microbiology WG of the Action. Robert and another NUI Galway student, Yan Yang (Civil Engineering) accompanied me to Porto. We’ve learned a lot from the meeting and I’m keen to incorporate trace metal research into more of our projects.

Our Action will next meet formally at the Biogas Science meeting in Vienna in October (http://biogas2014.boku.ac.at), but we hope to assemble the view of all of the Action’s participants before then so that we make progress in this important field quickly.

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Dinner and meeting with Prof Nancy Love, University of Michigan


I had the pleasure of joining Dr Ameet Pinto (@watermicrobe) and Prof Bill Sloan in hosting Professor Nancy Love for dinner last night in Glasgow’s West End (pic.twitter.com/ofKGD9OxpW). Nancy is a WEF Fellow and Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan, and is currently on sabbatical at the UNESCO-IHE for Water Education, Delft. She was also the main organizer of the really excellent IWA Microbial Ecology & Water Engineering (MEWE) conference we attended last summer in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Prof Love has had a long career in water/wastewater research, working on many topics and very closely with industrial contacts (http://envbiotech.engin.umich.edu/love/). She is also co-author on ‘Biological Wastewater Treatment’, one of the most-used textbooks in the field (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Biological-Wastewater-Treatment-Third-Edition-ebook/dp/B008RKM9F4).


We had an excellent discussion again this morning, ranging from some of her own work in Ann Arbor and in Ethiopia to our work on our ERC project in Galway and our EPSRC work in Zambia.


I’m looking forward to welcoming Prof Love to Galway during her sabbatical in Europe and also to visiting again soon to Ann Arbor.

– GC

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Updates on our slow sand filter research

Our slow sand filter trial with secondary effluent from a local wastewater treatment plant is coming towards the end. Joseph is maintaining them for a further few weeks to monitor coliform removal and nutrient cycling. He’s been back-washing Manz biofilters and also cleaning our conventional slow sand filters here: Image  

There’s a really healthy biofilm growing in the filters now; there’s excellent coliform removal, lots of protozoa and interesting nutrient cycling. Our next tasks are around analysing DNA and RNA extracts to determine community structure; potential metabolic functions; and gene expression. Image

We were also sampling today from the River Corrib for Octavi’s slow sand filters (SSFs), which he will feed with river water. His focus is on the mechanisms of coliform removal by SSF biofilms, as well as the persistence of environmental strains of E. coli in the filters – and whether these more successfully evade removal by, for example, protozoan grazing. We’ll work with Dr Florence Abram and Dr Conor O’Byrne on this question.

It was a wet and cold afternoon at the river though: ImageImage

Octavi’s filters are set up and ready to go next week: Image

More updates soon.



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