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Design of an improved path for cellulose and sugar production from lignocellulosic biomass waste

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, April 08, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Biopolymer cellulose has a significant manufacturing value. Enormous quantity of cellulosic waste is generated through wood waste from several sources: construction, wood processing and manufacturing, pallets and wooden packing or municipal wood waste. These wastes have an immense potential to be utilized for the production of cellulose. However, cellulose extraction from lignocellulosic biomass and its chemical conversion to sugars (feedstock in bioethanol production) is a difficult task due to cellulose rigid crystalline structure. This proposal targets to improve the path for the production of valuable compounds - cellulose and sugars - from lignocellulosic biomass waste by applying environmentally acceptable (low volatility) mixed solvents and catalysts, subjected to custom design.
This design will increase the efficiency of both extraction and chemical reaction, while lowering their temperatures and, thus, reducing the related energy costs.
The proposal brings novel approach to lignocellulosic biomass treatment and is complementary with the current research at EAS Institutes, EBRI (catalysis, lignocellulosic biomass treatment) and AIMR (polymer structure determination). At the same time, it matches with the EPSRC priorities (catalysis and sustainability themes). It represents an excellent value for the funds required, since the impacts are several: valuable products – cellulose and sugars, obtained from waste feedstock; diverse knowledge and professional experience for the student; progress in career for the supervisor; quality publications; collaboration within the EAS; industrial impacts (use of low-volatility solvents and reduced energy costs).

Project goals
The main goals of this project are to i) improve cellulose extraction from lignocellulosic biomass (wooden waste) and its chemical conversion to sugars, ii) provide the PhD student multiple knowledge in extraction and reaction processes as well as in application of various analytical techniques, useful for her/his future career development, iii) provide the results as a platform for further funds from RCUK, Innovate UK and EU funding schemes and iv) create the collaboration of Dr Visak within the EAS and help him in his future career.
The aforesaid improvements will be achieved by using mixtures of low volatile ionic liquids as mixed solvents and catalysts. This will allow their custom design in order to achieve higher efficiency of extraction and reaction and reduce energy costs by lowering the temperatures of both processes.

Scientific importance
Waste lignocellulosic biomass is an abundant source of a biopolymer cellulose which can be chemically converted to valuable group of chemicals (feedstock for bioethanol production) – reducing sugars . However, cellulose extraction process, particularly from biomass, and its chemical conversion (hydrolysis) to sugars is a difficult task due to highly ordered crystalline structure of cellulose. Consequently, both extraction and chemical reaction are still performed at temperatures usually ranging from 100C to 200C, employing hazardous catalysts (harmful acids).
Therefore, the major importance of this PhD project proposal is that it will provide a novel, improved path to extract cellulose from wooden waste and to convert it to sugars, using environmentally acceptable alternative solvents and catalysts.
Crucial novelty is the introduction of custom designed mixed solvents and catalysts based on low volatile ionic liquids, including novel acidic ionic liquids, not used before in cellulose catalytic hydrolysis. The design will be performed by composition control or anion selection.

Funding Notes

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the home/EU fees rate plus a maintenance allowance of £14,777 in 2018/19.

Applicants from outside the EU may apply for this studentship but will need to pay the difference between the ‘Home/EU’ and the ‘Overseas’ tuition fees, currently this is £12,290 per annum in 2018/19.

As part of the application you will be required to confirm that you have applied for, or, secured this additional funding.

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