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Sustainable production of high-value compounds using cyanobacteria

The project: Increasing environmental challenges means there is a need for novel, safe, sustainable and cost-effective production technologies. From this perspective production of chemicals using cyanobacteria is an attractive option. This is because cyanobacteria can be used to produce a range of compounds (e.g. polymers, vitamins, pigments and chemicals) using light and carbon dioxide as the main nutrients. Additionally, their fast growth rates and minimal nutrient requirements make them favourable from a scale-up perspective.

In order to further the use of cyanobacteria for sustainable production it is necessary to identify suitable strains.

Currently, the diversity of cyanobacteria and their potential for industrial application is yet to be fully explored, and a key aspect of this project would involve screening different species to identify the most promising for scale-up.

What you will be doing: this project will be primarily lab based. Students working on this project can:

  • Cultivate a range of cyanobacteria species at small (< 250 mL) scales as well as at larger (3 L) scale using custom built photo-bioreactors.
  • Learn skills about extraction of valuable compounds from biomass as well as their quantitation using HPLC and/or GC
  • Work with cutting-edge automated bioreactor set-ups for strain characterisation and improvement.
  • Learn skills in process development and optimisation.
  • Develop skills in process scale-up, process modelling and techno-economic evaluation.

Work on the project is not limited to these areas – if you have an area you are particularly interested in please get in touch.

Your background:

Applicants should have a First Class or Upper Second Class Honours degree, or a MSc in chemical engineering, biotechnology or a related discipline. Applicants should be able to work independently, have good written and oral communication skills and be self-motivated.


  • Bourdon, L., Jensen, A.A., Kavanagh, J.M., and McClure, D.D. (2021). Microalgal production of zeaxanthin. Algal Research 55, 102266.
  • Treece, T.R., Gonzales, J.N., Pressley, J.R., and Atsumi, S. (2022). Synthetic Biology Approaches for Improving Chemical Production in Cyanobacteria. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 10.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you would be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Dale McClure - I joined the Chemical Engineering Department at Brunel University in May 2021, after moving from the University of Sydney where I was employed at the Centre for Advanced Food Engineering, working in the area of industrial biotechnology. Prior to that I completed my PhD at the University of Sydney in 2014 and my undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering in 2010. My research is in the area of industrial biotechnology, with a focus on the safe, sustainable and cost-effective production of high-value compounds for the food, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries. A key focus of my work is sustainability and transforming what would be otherwise considered wastes to valuable products. I have extensive experience in the design, scale-up and modelling of bioreactors, and have developed advanced computational models of industrial systems. I have worked extensively with industry and many of the projects I have worked on have been successfully commercialised.   Awards and Honours:
  • 2018 Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry
  • 2016 Winner of European Society of Biochemical Engineering Bioprocess Engineering Design Prize
  • 2011 Australian Postgraduate Award
  • 2009 MIPPs Scholarship
  • 2008 Dean’s List of Excellence in Academic Performance
  • 2008 Amcor Prize for Greatest Proficiency in Chemical Engineering Practice
  • 2007 Dean’s List of Excellence in Academic Performance