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Bio-based Coalescing Aids for Paints and Coatings

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr T J Farmer, Dr James Sherwood  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

York United Kingdom Computational Chemistry Organic Chemistry Synthetic Chemistry

About the Project

The closing date for this project is 5 July 2021. However, if a suitable candidate is found sooner then the position will be offered and no further applications will be considered. Interested applicants are therefore encouraged to apply as soon as possible.


Coalescing aids are widely utilised in the paints and coatings industry as means of optimising film formation. They function by plasticising the base polymer of latex reducing the temperature at which an appropriate film may form. However, current coalescing aids are predominately derived from non-renewable fossil resources and therefore have a detrimental carbon impact and long-term supply concerns. Biomass derived coalescing agents are of significant commercial interest on the basis of improved carbon impact and potentially enhanced end-of-life options. The challenge is preparing new coalescing aids from biomass of appropriate performance, whilst also ensuring their chosen pathways of production are both sustainable and scalable.


This PhD project will seek to demonstrate novel coalescing aids, derivable from biomass, can be appropriate substitutes for current petrochemical equivalents, and result in acceptable performance in paint and coating latex systems. Based within the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence (GCCE), the project will develop new synthetic pathways, applying catalysis for the optimised synthesis of target bio-based coalescing agents. Working in collaboration with an industrial partner, Synthomer, the project will progress the use of these biomass derived coalescent aids in paints and coatings. Under the guidance of Synthomer, the project will also scope commercialisation pathways for the most promising candidates you have prepared.

Experimental approach

The project will initially use computational tools to aid selection of the most promising targets from a vast pool of potential bio-based candidate compounds. You will subsequently synthesise a range of different coalescing aids at lab-scale, allowing for preliminary assessment of their use in latex formulations. Where appropriate, you will seek to develop catalytic approaches for the preparation of some compounds, aiming for industrially relevant processes. Under the guidance of experts within the GCCE and Synthomer, you will select those with the most promising properties for further scale-up and testing and/or refine the structures to achieve appropriate performance. You will eventually scale the synthesis (>500 mL) for the leading coalescing aid, and subsequently undertake a placement at Synthomer’s research labs to gather data on their performance in relevant applications.

Novelty and impact

Your work will provide fundamental insights into the suitability of using bio-based platform molecules as a starting point for synthesis of coalescing aids. Your research will address a gap in the need for a sustainable bio-based coalescing aid with appropriate performance. You will also enhance our understanding in the link between computational predictions and actual material properties of high boiling point solvents. You will ultimately seek to commercialise new sustainable materials, potentially bringing new products to market and seeding a new generation of high bio-content latex formulations.


This multidisciplinary project covers aspects of computational chemistry, chemical synthesis, material performance testing and a view towards commercialisation. Within the GCCE you will benefit from work-leading training in the development and application of clean synthetic methods, catalysis, analytical chemistry and the use of bio-based chemicals. You will learn from experts in the GCCE in computer-aided selection and synthesis of bio-based solvents, and apply this approach for the first time to coalescing aid. You will also learn from experts at Synthomer in the preparation of latex formulations. You will undertake a 1-3 month industrial placement (expenses covered by Synthomer) training you in large-scale coalescent aid synthesis, latex formulation, performance testing, and intellectual property and regulatory aspects. You will attend and present at GCCE group meetings and external conferences.

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:  

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:

Further Information

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor's name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2021. Induction activities will start on 27 September.

How to Apply

To apply for this project, submit an online PhD in Chemistry application:

You should hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a related subject.  

Funding Notes

Fully funded for 3.5 years by Synthomer and covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,609 for 2021-22), (ii) tuition fees at the Home rate, (iii) funding for consumables.
Studentships are available to any student who is eligible to pay tuition fees at the home rate:
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