John Williams

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

Wastewater Treatment

Sustainable Drainage

Personal profile


I am Professor of Environmental Technology and research lead for the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying.

I am Director of the Environmental Technology Field Station, a unique facility based at Petersfield wastewater treatment works.  This facility has laboratories and test beds which allow us to work on pilot scale treatment systems using real sewage.  It is the base for a major collaboration with Southern Water to create an Innovation Hub for addressing the problems facing small sewage treatment sites.  The site also hosts pilot plants with other industrial collaborators, such as WPL Ltd.

My work is mainly concerned with water quality improvements in wastewater and sustainable drainage (SuDS).  Currently we are looking at ways to remove phosphorous from sewage that avoids the need for chemical dosing and large scale infrastructure in collaboration with Southern Water.  We have recently completed projects looking at pharmaceuticals in sewage (Astra Zeneca), the fate pollutants in SuDS and also a NERC Green Infrastructure Innovation Project looking at ways in which developers can account for the multiple benefits of SuDS.

Overall the aim of this work is to develop low impact solutions to real world environmental problems.

Research Interests

My research mainly focuses on water quality in wastewater treatment and sustainable drainage, although I have also worked on a number of projects concerned with sustainability appraisal.  My main focus has been on low impact technologies, particularly those based on natural processes and wetland plants. Ongoing projects include:

  • Wastewater treatment technologies for small sites
  • Use of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment and runoff management
  • Fate of microplastics in wastewater treatment and drainage systems
  • Remediation of polluted sediments
  • Removal of pesticides from runoff in Thailand

PhD Research Supervision

I have supervise 24 PhD students to completion and welcome applications from potential research students in the fields of wastewater treatment and urban runoff management.

Media Availability

I am happy to take calls and emails from media on my research and I am aware of the need for timely responses. I like to restrict comment to projects I have undertaken or where I have specific expertise.

Interested journalists can also contact the University's Media and Communications team for support and advice on all media engagement, including out of hours.


I graduated from Kingston Polytechnic in 1988, with a BSc (Hons) degree in Resources Science.  I then came to Portsmouth Polytechnic to undertake a PhD examining nitrogen cycling and pathogen removal in constructed wetlands in the UK and Egypt, which was awarded in 1993 by the newly established University of Portsmouth.  I then stayed at Portsmouth to do a post-doc examining the application of constructed wetlands to industrial wastewater and worked on various projects in Egypt, South America and Europe.

I have stayed at the University of Portsmouth ever since, becoming Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Principal Lecturer, before being promoted to Reader in 2015 and Professor in 2017.

During my time at Portsmouth I have led many projects in collaboration with industry, supported by funding from a range of sources such as Innovate UK and (as was) RCUK.  My work on constructed wetlands has extended to monitoring and modelling vegetated sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), starting with the A34 Newbury Bypass (Mott MacDonald) and then to SuDS in housing developments (Mayer Brown/InnovateUK and NERC).  I have also worked on many wastewater treatment projects including the characterisation of fatberg deposits (WRc/EPSRC) and assessing the fate of pharmaceuticals (Astra Zeneca/EPSRC).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Education/Academic qualification

Ph.D., Microbial Factors Affecting the Design and Operation of a Gravel Bed Hydroponic Sewage Treatment System, University of Portsmouth


Award Date: 1 Apr 1993

BSc (Hons), Applied Science (Resources Science), Kingston University


Award Date: 1 Jun 1988


  • TD Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering


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