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  Atmospheric chemistry of new green solvents

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr T J Dillon, Dr Rob McElroy  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project


Solvents make up the bulk of waste from the chemical industry yet little attention is paid to the environmental impact of these volatile organic compounds (VOC) once released to the atmosphere {1-2}. Aromatic solvents such as toluene are toxic and are known to breakdown in air to yield large quantities of harmful gases such as ozone and formaldehyde. With environmental impact and sustainability at the forefront of York research efforts, we have developed novel, sustainable, less-hazardous ‘green’ solvents to replace traditional compounds,

However, the gas-phase photochemistry of these compounds is unknown. Most green solvents are oxygenated VOC, a class of compounds with highly unpredictable chemical behaviour in air {3}. In this project you will conduct lab- and computational chemistry experiments to discover and assess the impacts of new green solvents on air quality. The results will improve atmospheric models and also inform new solvent design so that benign chemical features can be incorporated into future solvent design.


To determine gas-phase oxidation rates and mechanisms for new green solvents; to assess air quality impacts; to identify key chemical structures and functionalities responsible for solvent gas-phase reactivity; to inform and improve new solvent design.

Experimental Approach

Pulsed Laser Photolysis – Laser Induced Fluorescence for solvent breakdown in free-radical reactions; fast-flow reactor for solvent photolysis reactions; GAUSSIAN for thermodynamic calculations and chemical structure determinations; the master chemical mechanism for environmental impacts.


All Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills:

Bespoke training and support will be provided by supervisors and the atmospheric science, laser photochemistry and green chemistry teams in York:

As full training is provided, no specific experience or expertise is required e.g. with lasers or GAUSSIAN.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

Your background

You should expect hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a related subject. Please check the entry requirements for your country:

Chemistry (6)

Funding Notes

This project is available to students from any country who can fund their own studies. The Department of Chemistry at the University of York is pleased to offer Wild Fund Scholarships. Applications are welcomed from those who meet the PhD entry criteria from any country outside the UK. Scholarships will be awarded on supervisor support, academic merit, country of origin, expressed financial need and departmental strategy. For further details and deadlines, please see our website:


{1} Prat, D. et al. (2016), CHEM21 selection guide of classical- and less classical-solvents. Green Chem., 18, 288
{2} Byrne, F. et al. (2017). 2,2,5,5-Tetramethyltetrahydrofuran (TMTHF): a non-polar, non-peroxide forming ether replacement for hazardous hydrocarbon solvents, Green Chem., 19, 3671, DOI: 10.1039/c7gc01392b
{3} Dillon, T.J. et al. (2006). Reaction of HO with hydroxyacetone (HOCH2C(O)CH3): rate coefficients (233–363 K) and mechanism. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. (2), 236-246

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