A scholarship has been awarded to a young South Australian at SA Water for a PhD looking into the environmental impact of human waste and its management.

Sarah Aucote will progress a PhD with SA Water and the University of Queensland, investigating ways to improve the operation of wastewater sludge-drying lagoons by reducing their methane emissions.

The young scientist said that promoting the activity of natural microorganisms that consume methane may reduce emissions and help contribute to climate change mitigation efforts.

“Sludge-drying lagoons are commonly used around the world to treat wastewater sludge and form biosolids for agricultural application such as fertiliser, but they’ve recently been shown to contribute to the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment plants,” Ms Aucote said.

“As a young researcher, it’s incredibly satisfying to work on such a fantastic project that I believe will be beneficial not only to SA Water, but to other water utilities around the world.”

Sarah received the prestigious Water Research Australia (WaterRA) Nancy Millis Memorial PhD Scholarship at the industry association’s annual international Research and Innovation Gala Dinner, which provides a combined $25,000 in project funding and travel support.

The award is given in memory of the late Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis AC MBE, who was a pioneer for women in science in Australia, and recognises students who have demonstrated exceptional qualities and a passion for research.

“The experience and insight I will gain, along with the motivation of achieving this award, will help me to develop as a researcher and make a positive contribution to the water industry,” Ms Aucote said.

“I’m extremely thankful to WaterRA for the award, and appreciative of the opportunities my supervisors have provided me throughout the project – the continual guidance and support they have offered has been integral to my development.”

Sarah’s passion for research has seen her flourish at SA Water, and her recent achievement builds on the 2018 Australian Water Awards National Student Water Prize she received for her Honours project through Flinders University, where she graduated top of her cohort.

She is supervised by SA Water Lead Scientist Environment and Wastewater, Dr Ben van den Akker, alongside Professor Zhiguo Yuan AM and Dr Shihu Hu of the Advanced Water Management Centre at the University of Queensland.

“Her desire and commitment to helping improve the water industry through research is second to none, and we’re so proud that her efforts and qualities have been reconginsed through this terrific accolade,” Dr van den Akker said.

“The win was a significant achievement and reflects her individual brilliance and initiative, and it will further inspire her to keep contributing to the betterment of the water industry.”

Main image caption: Sarah Aucote is progressing her PhD at SA Water’s world-leading laboratory, based in Adelaide’s CBD. Image credit: SA Water.

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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