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(BBSRC DTP CASE) Sustainability assessment of biobased surfactants by fermentation and biomass transformation

   Department of Chemical Engineering

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  Dr R Cuellar-Franca, Dr J Winterburn  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This CASE PhD project in collaboration with Holiferm Limited will assess the environmental impacts and techno-economic aspects of different types of biosurfactants, produced via a variety of pathways such as fermentation and biomass transformation, and compare these to traditional chemical surfactants in a consistent way – allowing for fair and even evaluation of the environmental profiles/benefits. This will be achieved using a combination of experimental and process simulation methods, integrated with techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment. The findings will be used to identify limitations to overcome and opportunities for process improvement in order to advance biosurfactant commercialisation.

The surfactant market is large and established with the commonly encountered surfactants, e.g. SLES, being chemically synthesised from crude oil derived raw materials.1 This leads to a range of environmental issues, with aquatic toxicity and persistence in the environment being particular disadvantages. Oleochemical based surfactants, also known as biosurfactants, are renewable alternatives to petrochemical based surfactants that can be produced from various renewable sources, e.g. plant oils and carbohydrates.2-4 Examples of industrially relevant biosurfactants include alkyl polyglucosides (APG), alcohol ethoxylates and glycolipids, which can be produced by biomass transformation2-3 and in the case of the latter, by microbial fermentation.4 Whilst the renewable nature of the feedstocks used in their production can represent a major advantage with respect to crude oil, the overall environmental and economic sustainability performance of biobased surfactants is largely unknown. For example, only a handful of life cycle assessment (LCA) studies on biosurfactants have been reported in literature spanning few compounds.2-4 However, the methodology approaches used and assumptions made vary across studies, making robust comparative analysis impossible and unreliable. This PhD project will directly address these inconsistencies and lack of knowledge. Further, most biosurfactant production processes reported in the literature are focused on biomass transformation processes, leaving a significant knowledge gap when it comes to fermentation process for the production of glycolipids. Therefore, there is a need to obtain experimental data for these processes to enable sustainability studies and scale up projections to be carried out. 





Applicants must have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second class UK honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science, engineering or technology. 

Before you Apply

Applicants must make direct contact with preferred supervisors before applying. It is your responsibility to make arrangements to meet with potential supervisors, prior to submitting a formal online application.

How To Apply

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on eligibility how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/research/bbsrc-dtp/

Your application form must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents by the advertised deadlines. Without all the required documents submitted at the time of application, your application will not be processed and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered. If you have any queries regarding making an application please contact our admissions team [Email Address Removed]

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/research/apply/equality-diversity-inclusion/

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year CASE studentship in partnership with Holiferm Limited. This scheme is open to both the UK and international applicants. We are only able to offer a limited number of studentships to applicants outside the UK. Therefore, full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


1] Schowanek, D. et al. 2018, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 23(4), 867-886.
[2] Nogueira, A. R. et al. 2019, Journal of Cleaner Production,240, 118203.
[3] Guilbot, J. et al. 2013, Green Chemistry, 15(12), 3337-3354.
[4] Baccile, N. et al. 2017, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering,5(1), 1186-1198.
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