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  Clean energy – removing dependency on fossil fuels and improving the chemical safety case for deep geological disposal of radioactive materials


   Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

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  Dr Andrew Hamilton  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Nuclear energy is a zero emission clean energy source with one of the smallest carbon footprints which produces more electricity on less land than any other clean energy source, such as windfarms. It is essential to our response to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the energy gap. It currently provides almost a fifth of the UK’s electricity, generating chemical waste that needs to be managed for safe, sustainable, long term storage. While most radioactive waste comes from the generation of electricity, it is also a by-product of many medical and industrial activities that make use of radioactive materials. In a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF), higher-activity waste is stored hundreds of metres deep underground and GDF is internationally recognised as the safest, sustainable long-term solution for this type of material waste. There is an urgent need to understand how the cement grout used to contain waste interacts with the backfill material (called Nirex reference vault backfill) used to stabilise waste containers in the GDF in order to predict how the GDF will perform over thousands of years. This project investigates rare, aged samples (+10 years old) to determine how microstructural and physical characteristics of the Nirex reference vault backfill (NRVB): Portland cement grout interface will alter over time-scales applicable to deep geological disposal facilities. This project will use a combination of 2D X-ray diffraction and scattering, 3D/2D imaging and supporting analytical measurements to determine how the cements microstructure and porosity/permeability have developed over 10 years of hydrothermal ageing. Beamtime at Diamond Light Source, a national synchrotron facility, will be applied for to access a new small angle X-ray scattering technique called SAXS-Tensor Tomography for high resolution information on the microstructural changes. The results from this project will inform on further (future) work on radionuclide retention and reactive transport in NRVB, which requires a thorough understanding of porosity/permeability (and mineralogy) to support numerical/predictive models on radionuclide mobility. This project will provide vital data for improving and developing the safety case for deep geological disposal of radioactive waste material.

We are looking for a highly motivated person to undertake multi-disciplinary research. Applicants should have an excellent undergraduate degree (MSc/MEng/BSc/BEng, 1st class/2:1 class or equivalent) in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering/Materials, Science/Geochemistry/Environmental Engineering, or related subjects.

Training and support:

During this PhD you will gain valuable skills and knowledge across chemistry, materials science and engineering, developing both your understanding and laboratory expertise in these fields. You will explore the properties of cement and how it can be used in vital tasks such as nuclear waste storage.   You will use our department’s state-of-the-art £6M civil and environmental engineering research laboratories, which houses a wide range of innovative analytical and testing equipment. In addition to our department’s facilities, Strathclyde houses a wide range of other innovative research facilities such as the Advanced Materials Research Laboratory. 

The successful candidate will be trained in and use techniques such as micro-(X-ray diffraction), electron probe micro-analysis, X-ray computed tomography and may access national facilities such as Diamond Light Source, to determine how mineralogy, micro-strain, porosity and permeability of the NRVB:cement grout interface have altered over 10 years. The student will be based in the Faculty of Engineering, one of the largest and most successful engineering faculties in the UK, and the largest in Scotland.

The Department of Civil Engineering, University of Strathclyde, is a dynamic, multidisciplinary environment known for its friendly and supportive research culture. You will join a welcoming cohort of fellow PhD students in our department, who have a wide range of backgrounds across engineering and science. Our supportive culture is reflected in our award of Athena Swan Gold Status (one of only a few engineering units in the UK to hold this award), recognizing our work on gender equality and supporting all staff and students.

Professional and personal development is an important part of the postgraduate researcher journey here at Strathclyde. During the PhD you will gain invaluable additional training and development through tailor-made Professional Development programs, developing skills to help you meet your future career aspirations.

HOW TO APPLY:

Contact Dr Andrea Hamilton () indicating your motivation to apply, your CV and outline any experience you have working in a laboratory.


Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Geology (18) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded 4 year PhD studentship, covering tuition fees and an annual tax-free stipend for 4 years at the standard UK research rate (£19,739 in 2024). A generous allowance is available for instrument access. Start date is negotiable and can be arranged to suit the successful applicant. Application deadline 24th June 2024, but early application is strongly advised. Available to students from the United Kingdom or the European Union (with settled or pre-settled status). Outstanding applicants that do not meet the above eligibility criteria may be eligible for full fees and a partial stipend, please contact Dr Hamilton.


Where will I study?