Organic (carboxylic) acids are produced as by-products from a range of sustainable processes, e.g. in the aqueous phase arising from CO2 conversion via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis; anaerobic digestate residues; BSF larvae used for organic waste decomposition etc. These provide a valuable resource which can be used as a feedstock for the production of valuable alcohol and aldehyde species.
In order to exploit the potential of such feedstocks, it is necessary to have a complete understanding of their composition; both in terms of the carboxylic acid distribution and any impurities present which may influence the catalytic process. Therefore, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) will be employed to characterise a range of potential feedstocks.
Catalytic reaction studies will be conducted using both model feedstocks (e.g. single and multi-component mixtures of carboxylic acids) and ’real’ samples. Catalyst and process optimisation will be conducted considering support material, active metal, solvent, reaction temperature, pressure etc. With analyses utilising GC/MS and FTIR (including operando measuremenrs) among other techniques.
Hydrothermal processing presents one potentially advantageous method of conversion of organic acids, and this will form a key part of the project. This technology allows for aqueous feedstocks to be employed without an initial separation stage, while the water can play a role as a hydrogen source and a catalyst in addition to acting as solvent. We are currently developing a large (1 l) scale Fischer-Tropsch reactor which will produce an oxygenate containing aqueous phase which will be used as feedstock for this process.
Students will fully engage in the Faculty Doctoral Development Programme. In addition, subject-specific training in industrial-standard analytic techniques will be provided.
Graduates in this field are highly employable. Catalysis underpins the UK and global manufacturing sectors with over 90% of products employing a catalyst at some stage in their manufacture. Opportunities therefore exist to progress into companies at all levels, from large multi-nationals to SMEs; or into academia.
The student will be an integrated part of large research group benefitting from many shared resources.
This project is suitable for a graduate in chemical engineering, chemistry or a closely related subject holding a 2.1 (or equivalent) degree. Applicants should meet the universities requirements for English language proficiency.