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Crude Sulfate Turpentine as a new source of biorenewable fuel

Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (AAPS)

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Prof Steven Bull , Dr Chris Chuck Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

Dwindling fossil fuel supplies and global warming mean there is an urgent need to develop biorenewable replacements for the petrochemical based fuels and lubricants consumed by the automotive industry. Bioethanol from fermentation of lignocellulose biomass and other high energy biofuel replacements derived from hydrogenated vegetable oils have been developed, however many of these biofuels have low densities and volumetric heating values.

Terpenes represent an alternative class of naturally occurring hydrocarbons which have comparatively higher densities that make them ideal-fuel replacements/additives. Nature produces an estimated one billion tonnes of terpene annually, which is a sufficient volume to consider using these hydrocarbons as replacement biofuels. Recent developments in industrial biotechnology have also demonstrated the potential of engineering metabolic pathways into microbes for the industrial production of economically important higher terpenes. The cheapest commercial sources of terpene currently available is Crude Sulfate Turpentine (CST) which is produced as a waste by-product of the Kraft paper pulp process (approx. 240,000 tonnes p/a) and gum turpentine (110,000 tonnes p/a) that is available from sustainable tapping of pine trees. Both turpentine sources are comprised of a mixture of cyclic monoterpenes (-pinene, -pinene, 3-carene and limonene), that are currently used as chemical feedstocks by the flavour/fragrance industries or burnt on-site to provide a cheap energy source for the pulping plant.

We have recently developed a catalytic two-step ring fragmentation/hydrogenation protocol to convert CST into a ‘sulfur free’ p-menthane biofuel containing controllable amounts of aromatic p-cymene. The monocyclic saturated branched ring structure of p-menthane means that it should exhibiy excellent automotive biofuel properties (high energy, branched, resistant to oxidation, low freezing point, non-carcinogenic). This project will optimise the chemical route from untreated industrial CST (e.g. desulfurisation technology, catalyst recycling) obtained from a Swedish paper mill (Södra) to produce p-menthane/p-cymene blends (ratio dependent on partial hydrogen pressure) whose combustion performance (e.g. melting point, cloud point, cetane level, temperature performance, combustion kinetics/pathways) will then be optimised to enable field tests to be carried out in different types of combustion engine.

This project is offered within the Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (CDT-AAPS). The centre aims to create a diverse and stimulating environment where you can deepen your knowledge in your discipline through your PhD whilst giving breath to your skills through collaborations.

Prospective students will be applying for the integrated PhD programme run by CDT-AAPS which includes a one-year MRes (full time) followed by a PhD programme. The MRes course will be conducted as a cohort with a focus on technology, team-working and research skills. On successful completion of the MRes, you will progress to a PhD programme which can be conducted on a full-time or part-time basis.

CDT-AAPS is determined to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members. The whole CDT community will come together at specific events during the calendar year, most notably the induction events, workshops and guest lectures. All new students joining the CDT will be assigned both an academic personal tutor and a student mentor. Each student will be assigned a minimum of 2 academic supervisors at the point of starting their PhD.

Funding is available for four-years (full time equivalent) for Home/EU students.

See our website to apply or for more details (

Funding Notes

AAPS CDT studentships are available on a competition basis for UK and EU students for up to 4 years. Funding will cover UK/EU tuition fees as well as providing maintenance at the UKRI doctoral stipend rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019/20) and a training support fee of £1,000 per annum.
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