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Emeritus Professor Sonia Heaven

Professorial Fellow-Research

Research interests

  • Current research interests are in the use of biological systems for energy production, biomass production for biorefineries and pollution remediation.

More research

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Research groups

Research interests

  • Current research interests are in the use of biological systems for energy production, biomass production for biorefineries and pollution remediation.

Current research

Prof Heaven is Director of the UKRI-funded Environmental Biotechnology Network and UK National Lead for IEA Task 37 Biogas. Current research interests are in the use of biological systems for energy production, biomass production for biorefineries and pollution remediation.

Renewable energy production through anaerobic digestion: Comparative performance of a range of process configurations and operating regimes for biowaste and energy crop substrates, including single and multi-phase operation; high and low solids contents; and mesophilic and thermophilic temperatures. The aim is to identify to optimum systems in terms of specific and volumetric methane yields to support the analysis of overall energy production potential.

Algal systems: This builds on EU-funded work in central Asia on factors affecting the performance of waste stabilisation ponds. The results have led to novel approaches based on designing for seasonal variation and local climate conditions. The research has now developed into the broader theme of non-steady state conditions, with much wider applications:

  • Algal biomass for renewable energy and biorefinery product generation
  • Light penetration in pure and mixed algal cultures
  • Growth of other microbial groups, such as purple non-sulphur bacteria
  • Oxygen productivity as an indicator of the health of algal systems
  • Simple and complex climate-based models for design and performance of algal systems in different regions
  • Integration into water conservation and irrigation schemes

Waste management: Projects include the EPSRC-funded SUE Waste Consortium and the Defra New Technologies programme, looking mainly at quantitative and systems-related aspects (e.g. energy footprinting, waste audit and logistics).

Biomethanisation of CO2 in Anaerobic Digestion Plants

This project is part of the IB Catalyst programme jointly funded by Innovate UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).    


This collaborative project is aimed at developing a beneficial synergy between anaerobic digestion (AD) and pyrolysis for the processing of non-source segregated organic fraction of municipal solid waste (MSW).

VALORGAS - Valorisation of food waste to biogas

AD is not a new technology, but its application for energy recovery in the field of municipal waste treatment is only just becoming established in Europe, and only for mixed wastes. The use of source segregated food wastes as substrate is not yet widespread, possibly because of technical challenges linked with collection, handling, pre-treatment and digestion of this material. The research includes a number of closely related components with a common underlying goal: to evaluate and where possible improve the energy production process from the perspective of the overall net energy gain achieved within defined system boundaries that include collection, sorting, processing, and beneficial use of recovered material

Spring ponds - algal biomass systems

The research considers a range of factors affecting algal revival and growth, focusing particularly on phenomena in the unsteady state period occurring between the end of winter and the onset of summer conditions.

AmbiGas - Biogas production from high volume industrial effluents at ambient temperatures

This is a collaborative project funded by ERA-Net which aims to maximise the energy gain from anaerobic biological treatment of high-volume low strength industrial wastewaters at ambient temperatures.

BG Chairs of Environmental Technology
FP7 All-Gas: Industrial scale demonstration of sustainable algae cultures for biofuel production
Reuse and recycling of bulky wastes

This EPSRC-funded project formed part of the Sustainable Urban Environment (SUE) Waste Consortium (GR/S79626/01).

Development of low-cost methods for treatment and reuse of drainage and urban wastewater by adaptation of waste stabilisation ponds for extreme continental climates

If properly operated, cold climate waste stabilisation ponds (WSP) offer an extremely efficient means of treating raw sewage to provide a high-quality effluent at low cost, which can be used for irrigation purposes or returned to the rivers. Because of the desperate shortage of water resources in many regions, the country's vast land area and difficulties with the provision of effective conventional wastewater treatment in many cities, waste stabilisation ponds are of particular relevance to Kazakhstan and Central Asia. This EU-funded project aimed at improving our knowledge of such systems in order to optimise their design and performance

Study of the parameters for optimisation of the design and performance of waste stabilisation ponds in extreme continental climates

Waste stabilisation ponds in continental climates operate in very different modes in different seasons. This research was carried out in conjunction with an EU FP4 project to establish the parameters affecting design and operation.

Development of options for damage limitation and environmental restoration of mercury-contaminated areas in north-central Kazakhstan

This project is one of a series carried out on aspects of mercury pollution in the River Nura in Temirtau in central Kazakhstan.

Creation of a network of scientists and engineers for sustainable management of the water resources of the Aral basin

The project brought together engineers, scientists and policy makers to identify research needs and propose solutions for the Aral basin.

Study of the equilibrium and kinetics of mercury sorption and desorption by power station fly ash and assessment of the role of ash in limiting the bio-availability of mercury

This project aimed to provide detailed knowledge of the processes by which power station ash acts as a sorbent for mercury, allowing it to be considered as a potential remediation material.

Satellite image processing techniques for effective management of land use and irrigation demand in the Aral basin - INTAS Aral

It is estimated that effective management of irrigated agriculture in the Aral basin could save up to 10% of the region’s water, doubling the flow to the severely degraded lower reaches and contributing significantly to the preservation of the region’s biodiversity and its human and natural ecosystems. This research aimed to provide a scientifically-proven methodology by which agricultural land use can be determined from multi-spectral satellite imagery. The method was then applied, in conjunction with an existing water resource management model for the Syr Darya river, to provide up-to-date information for calculation of crop water demand. The result is a cost-effective system that is capable of identifying the extent and location of wasted irrigation water, and of examining the effects of alternative management options. The overall goal was to provide practical tools that will allow rational planning and utilisation of the Aral basin's land and water resources.

Water Availability and the Production of Biofuels - An Integrated Assessment

The project involved joint workshops between the Universities of Southampton and Bath in the UK and the University of California at Irvine, to address these issues and to look at potential research approaches and areas for collaboration.

TRIF MBR - Anaerobic membrane reactor technology for biodegradable waste stabilisation

This was a collaborative project funded under Defra's TRIF programme to look at the development of two-stage membrane bioreactors for anaerobic digestion of municipal solid waste

TRIF PS - Particle size requirements for effective bioprocessing of biodegradable municipal waste

This was a collaborative project funded under Defra's TRIF programme to look at the effects of particle size on the aerobic and anaerobic degradation of organic wastes

TRIF Auto - Evaluating the effect of autoclaving on the rate of bioprocessing of waste

The principal aims of this research were: to determine whether autoclaving changes the rate of biodegradation in composting and anaerobic digestion and to what extent; to determine whether the product from bioprocessing meets PAS 100 requirements for heavy metal concentration;  to examine potential effects of thermal pre-treatment on gaseous emissions during subsequent bioprocessing

SUE Waste Project 3 - Appropriate scales and technologies for bioprocessing of organic urban wastes including energy production from anaerobic digestion

This was one part of an EPSRC-funded project looking at waste management in the context of a sustainable urban environment. The research involved assessment of appropriate scales and technologies for urban bioprocessing plant, and experimental studies on anaerobic digestion as a technique for management of source-separated kitchen and catering wastes

Optimising processes for the stable operation of food waste digestion

This work identified a key cause of process instability in anaerobic digestion of food waste, and suggested technical solutions

Measuring stability of digestates from AD of source-segregated biodegradable waste and manures

Funded by the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the Bioenergy and Organic Resources Group led a consortium of 3 institutions, including The Open University and WRc, to develop the test which has now become part of PAS110 and confirms that a digestate is sufficient in terms of biological stability to ensure environmentally sound land application.

Lockerley Water Farm - intermittent loading algal pond system

The project concerns the provision of a sustainable and cost-effective wastewater treatment system at Lockerley Water Farm, situated north of Romsey in Hampshire, UK

Optimising Inputs and Outputs from Anaerobic Digestion Processes

The aim of the work was to better understand the factors influencing the stabilisation of the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the anaerobic digestion process. In particular the research addressed whether stabilisation, as judged by volumetric gas production, solids destruction and bio-stability of the residues, could be improved by co-digestion with other organic wastes from industry, commerce and agriculture.

EU - China Cooperation for Liquid Fuels

ECOFUEL is building an international partnership for new second generation biofuel processes: the research will set the foundation stones for the technologies being developed, and make further contributions to overcoming barriers to commercialisation. The ECOFUEL project will effectively integrate respective regional programmes for better allocation and utilisation of resources, in particular to achieve the critical mass required to move the second generation of biofuels forward.

CROPGEN - Renewable Energy from Crops and Agro-wastes

CROPGEN was a research project funded by the EU's 6th Framework Programme, involving 11 partners in 6 European countries. The overall objective of the research was to produce from biomass a sustainable fuel source that can be integrated into the existing energy infrastructure in the medium term, and in the longer term provide a safe and economical means of supplying the needs of a developing renewable fuel economy.

BV Dairies KTP

The purpose of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership between BV Dairy and Southampton is to apply the University's research-based knowledge of process optimisation and integration techniques to the introduction of AD as a treatment process for high-volume, low-strength dairy wastes.

Anaerobic degradation of renewable plastics

This study for the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) aimed to determine whether anaerobic digestion (AD) is an effective treatment for a mixed food waste stream containing renewable plastics.

Bioganix Demonstrator Project - Research, Monitoring and Evaluation

The Bioganix Demonstration Project was funded under Defra's New Technologies programme.  The University of Southampton was responsible for research monitoring and evaluation, including energy footprinting of the process.

Biocycle - Research, Monitoring and Evaluation of the South Shropshire Digester

This project involved research, monitoring and evaluation of the Biocycle digester, a plant treating kitchen and green waste from 19,000 households in South Shropshire. The plant is funded by Defra's New Technologies demonstrator programme and Advantage West Midlands, and has been operating since January 2006.

All-Gas: Industrial scale demonstration of sustainable algae cultures for biofuel production

This project, led by Aqualia SA, is a large scale demonstration of the sustainable production of bio-fuels based on low-cost microalgae cultures.

Integrated Systems for Farm Diversification into Energy Production by Anaerobic Digestion: Implications for Rural Development, Land Use & Environment

The research examined the potential for development of anaerobic digestion (AD) on farms, and the contribution that this could make to rural development and diversification of agricultural practice by enhanced land use planning for bioenergy production. The research is set in the context of a rapidly developing European agenda aimed at both strengthening the rural economy and protecting the environment.

System requirements for low-cost energy-efficient algal biomass cultivation for biofuel production

This research was funded by the Carbon Trust's Algal Biofuels Challenge programme, and aimed to provide the basis for design and engineering of cost-effective mass culture systems for algal production

Study of the mercury of the River Nura

This project is one of a series carried out on aspects of mercury pollution in the River Nura in Temirtau in central Kazakhstan. In particular it aimed to study the chemical fate of mercury in the river in an attempt to identify conditions of water flow and quality that will reduce its transport downstream; and the distribution, transport and behaviour of the mercury contaminated silts, in order to define economic containment techniques.

Effective mass transfer of hydrogen into digester mixed liquor for biomethanisation of biogas CO2

A current challenge with intermittent generation of renewable energy is finding an energy storage solution to provide energy at a time to meet consumer demand. Electrolytic production of H2 has been proposed, however this is currently limited by a lack of H2 infrastructure for storage and usage. H2 can be combined biochemically, however, with CO2 to form CH4 in an anaerobic reactor. This process increases the carbon utilisation of waste biomass in anaerobic digestion, producing biomethane which can act as a substitute to natural gas in our current gas infrastructure. This project investigates the mass transfer of H2 into an anaerobic reactor and the performance of the digester considering the effect on pH from a reduced concentration of bicarbonate in the digester liquor.

Development of anaerobic support particles for effective membrane cleaning for submerged anaerobic membrane bioreactors, AnMBR

Laboratory investigation into the manufacture of support particles to allow colonisation of anaerobic biomass and low impact cleaning of submerged membranes in anaerobic bioreactors.

Clean water and green energy from waste using bubble acoustics

Research projects

Active projects

Sponsor: Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council

Completed projects

Sponsor: Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council
Sponsor: Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council
Sponsor: Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council