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School of Veterinary and Life Sciences

Honours Projects

Dr Ralf Cord-Ruwisch

Position: Senior Lecturer in Fermentation Biology
Phone: 9360 2403
Room: SC 2.047

Research

Industrial Biotechnology and Environmental Microbiology

The projects listed below deal with processes that are important to industry (mining, biotechnology, water) or to the environment (waste treatment, nutrient removal, etc.). Common to most projects is the use of microbiology techniques and the monitoring, control and optimisation of such processes. Where possible, online computer control will be used. While not essential, good background in microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry and interest in industrial aspects of biotechnology is desired. Typically projects are planned in collaboration with industry, which often has a benefit to the student (e.g. scholarship or employment possibilities). In return students are trained to work at an industrial pace while keeping a pleasant working atmosphere within the group (currently 6 people).

Projects

Bioleaching of Copper Minerals.

Intro

Bioleaching is a mining process that uses acidophilic bacteria (pH 1-2) to recover metals such as gold, copper and zinc from sulphide minerals. Rather than burning (roasting) the ore producing SO2 and other gases, bacteria catalyse the release of important metal species in solution. This often provides an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to conventional processes.

Signifance

Bioleaching is probably the largest scale biotechnology operation worldwide and is increasingly used also in Australia. 3 new research position in this area have been generated at CSIRO in Perth this year.

Attractions

In collaboration with the Parker Center Center of Hydrometallurgy CSIRO has invested in bioleaching honours projects have been run in the past years (resulting in scholarships of $7,000). Scholarship info for 2001 can be obtained from the project supervisor. The two previous honours graduate had been internship/job on bioleaching after the completion of the project. The project will use computer based data monitoring and process control, a highly desired skill for industry operations. Students will be trained in using and editing the program for the purposes of the project (no prior programming experience necessary).

Desired characteristics of candidates

general microbiology and biochemistry know-how, candidates need to be prepared to work with some electrochemistry, which really is a very conceptual part of science (little rote learning, lots of nice science principles).

Biological Nutrient Removal from Wastewater.

Intro and Significance

The treatment of wastewater in industrialized countries is not limited to organic pollutant removal. The removal of nitrogen and phosphorus by bacteria is of increasing importance to avoid eutrophication (an algal blooms) upon disposal of the treated wastewater.

Example problems to be addressed:

  • Does FISH (Fluorescence in-situ Hybridization) of microbial populations help to understand and optimize the process of nitrification.
  • Can the oxygen input bet controlled in such a way to allow optimization of nitrification (aerobic) and denitrification (anaerobic) to occur at the same time ?
  • Can certain bacterial groups be selected for to allow optimization of nutrient removal.

Attractions

Currently a PhD student with experience from overseas laboratories has generated interest by the Water Corporation and by Environmental Solutions International (the company implementing the largest nutrient removal waste water treatment plant in WA) to cooperate on the project. in laboratory work (computer controlled biological nutrient removal using sequencing batch reactor), modeling and industrial scale field tests. As there is additional support (PhD students, ESI) this project could involve more than 1 honours student. Focus of individual honours projects could be laboratory work, modeling or fieldwork.

Desired characteristics of candidates

An honours student could be accommodated within this project to work on specific aspects such as nitrification, dentrification, phosphorus removal or saving of oxygenation costs. A basic understanding of chemistry and microbiology techniques is important in this particular project. If the student selects modeling as the main focus, some prior experience with mathematical models of computer science would be an advantage. Good communication skills are an advantage for meetings with the Water Corporation and industry.

Biocement

Intro and Significance: In collaboration with Calcite Pty Ltd, Dr Cord Ruwisch has developed a novel method of forming calcium carbonate (calcite) using soil based bacteria. This technology, known as “biocement” can "set" sand into a solid rock-type material without the need to remove the sand from its location. It is expected that this process will be of interest to the mining industry, restoration of buildings and monuments. The process is similar to naturally occurring formation of calcite (limestone), however with the use of selected microbes, media and growth conditions the process can be controlled to achieve desired strengths. Details of the project are currently confidential and a provisional patent has been lodged.

Example activities

  • Can one find and isolate new organisms that can trigger calcium carbonate crystallization?
  • Can calcite be produced under anaerobic conditions?
  • Can other microbes (e.g. iron-reducing, sulfate-reducing or iron-oxidizing species) produce different types of biocement?
  • Can the microbial enzymes catalyzing calcite formation be produced effectively in bioreactors.

Attractions

Currently involved in negotiations with three European parties to commercialise the technology.

Suitable candidates

Good background in microbiology (sterile working), prepared to work on commercially driven project.

Computer controlled composting

Intro and Significance

The coastal plain of WA has soils that are in general of very low organic substance and nutrients. On the other hand landfill sites in the Perth area are still being filled with organic material such garden waste, paper, and other cellulose based material. It is a clearly established goal of the WA government to find better solutions for organic wastes. This project attempts to develop technology that converts cellulose based waste material (initially garden waste) into a soil conditioner.

(In collaboration with Dr Giles Hardy)

Example activities and study problems

  • Controlling moisture, oxygen and temperature of the compost to optimize for producing inhibitors against phyto-pathogenic fungi (e.g. die-back)
  • Potting trials to quantify the level of plant protection exhibited by compost
  • Which compost conditions are best suited to produce anti-fungal agents?
  • Can compost conditions produce a slow release organic fertilizer?

Attractions

This project is part of the newly established Centre for Organic Waste Management (COWM) at Murdoch University. Please ask about scholarships available to support this project.

Anaerobic Digestion

Intro and Significance

Anaerobic digestion is a microbial process that can convert waste compounds into renewable energy (methane gas). However the anaerobic digestion endproduct does not result in an environmentally acceptable endproduct (odor and leachate emission). A new process has been developed by the Perth based company ORT (Organic Resources Technologies Ltd.) This process called DiComp combines the benefits of composting and anaerobic digestion. The company has offered research funding to the university with the goal to support research that helps to better understand the processes in such a hybrid reactor.

Example activities and study problems

  • Survival of anaerobic methane producing populations under oxygenated conditions.
  • Requirement of aerobic seeding material of anaerobically digested to initiate composting.
  • Monitoring of gas composition of the process.

This project is part of the newly established Centre for Organic Waste Management (COWM) at Murdoch University. Please ask about scholarships available to support this project.

Suitable candidates

Good communication skills are important here to provide verbal and written reports to the company.

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