Using urban waste to store carbon in farm soils

Building soil carbon through blending urban organic wastes into an engineered soil amendment for farmers

Attempts to increase organic carbon in Australian cropping soils by means such as retaining crop stubble, adding compost, and growing green manure crops or perennial pastures have not achieved adequate success; soil organic carbon is still decreasing in many soils. Maintaining organic carbon in cropping soils will aid amelioration of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and improve soil physical and chemical characteristics, thereby aiding crop yields.

Recent Australian research shows that transformation of added organic matter such as crop stubbles to forms of organic carbon that will persist in soil over long periods of time occurs through the actions of soil microbes and depends on specific ratios of key nutrients (C: N: P: S) being present. However, this research has not been extended to include the carbon in biosolids.

In this project we will investigate if engineered biosolids can be used to produce a safe and affordable (transportable) product, with optimal ratios of key nutrients, to aid the formation of stable organic carbon in the soils of the broadacre cropping systems across southern Australia.


Project goals:

  • Quantify impact of engineered biosolids-based soil amendments on soil microbial processes including carbon cycling (laboratory incubations)
  • Determine optimal application rates for plant growth and soil organic matter buildup (glasshouse experiments)
  • Determine efficacy for soil organic matter buildup under a key target crop (field experiment on commercial farm).

The successful PhD applicant will undertake experiments utilising skills and knowledge in the areas of soil carbon sequestration, soil microbial processes, nutrient mineralisation in soil, crop nutrition and agronomy.

The project will be associated with the Transforming Biosolids ITTC which is funded by the ARC.

You will have the opportunity to work collaboratively across universities (UWA, UQ, RMIT, UNSW) and with industry stakeholders, including Richgro and WaterCorp.

Suggested reading


Research team leader: Dr Megan Ryan

Other key team members:


Funding and Collaborations


  • Stipend scholarship of around $27,000 per year for 3 or 3.5 years
  • Operating funds of at least $15,000
  • Access to resources within the ARC project (funds for travel and meetings that benefit the whole project)
  • A travel scholarship from UWA $1800
  • A laptop computer and software


  • The PhD student will be associated with the Transforming Biosolids ITTC.
  • There will be opportunities to work closely with industry partners


How to Apply 

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project:
    • Very desirable: experience with soil microbial ecology including molecular techniques
    • Desirable: background in crop nutrition, knowledge of the agricultural systems of southern Australia, experience with publication in scientific journals
Submit enquiry to research team leader 
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact to proceed with your application


Scholarship specific to this project
  • Stipend scholarship of around $27,000 per year for 3 or 3.5 years.
Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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