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Development of next generation sustainable flexible food packaging materials

   Advanced Materials and Surface Engineering

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  Prof P Kelly  No more applications being accepted  Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding

About the Project

An enthusiastic materials science/engineering/chemistry student is required to work on an industrially sponsored R&D project that seeks to address challenges around the sustainability of flexible food packaging materials.

In the UK, nearly 70% of the plastic waste originates from plastic packaging. To tackle this major issue, companies involved in the value chain of packaging materials, ranging from raw material producers and convertors to brand owners and retailers, have committed to using 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging materials by 2025. There are three different approaches that can be applied to develop material solutions for sustainable flexible barrier packaging: Firstly mono-material polyolefin based flexible packaging, which is compatible with the current mechanical recycling stream; Secondly compostable/biodegradable flexible packaging, which decomposes under industrial or home-composting conditions or is even marine-degradable; and finally, paper/fibre based packaging which is suitable to be processed in the existing paper recycling stream. The three pillars are part of Bobst Manchester’s sustainability agenda and the development of flexible packaging solutions is targeted for each of them. In collaboration with Bobst Manchester, this PhD project, therefore, focusses on the development, optimisation and characterisation of sustainable flexible barrier packaging, considering recyclable mono-material polyolefin-basedpaper-based and additionally compostable/biodegradable material solutions.

Aims and objectives

The main aims and objectives that this project will address are:

  • Can ‘designed for recycling’ flexible mono-material packaging (paper- or polymer-based) be recycled and converted back into packaging material with the required properties (such as mechanical or optical) and, if so, how many times without losing performance?
  • Does the developed compostable/biodegradable packaging decompose/degrade, and which conditions are required?
  • Can recycled material be used for something else? Is there an alternative post-consumer secondary market?
  • How can life cycle analysis (LCA) help to characterise sustainable packaging solutions and identity the right solution for an application?

Specific requirements of the project

The candidate is required to have a background in engineering, chemistry or materials science alongside a keen interest in sustainability. The candidate will need to demonstrate adaptability due to the multi-disciplinary nature of the work, and the capacity to carry out experimental work safely, and with precision.

An ability to work as part of a diverse team, to meet deadlines and produce reports and presentations of a high standard to a range of audiences is essential. Applicants will also require initiative, self-motivation, and creativity in their thinking. Good communication and organisation skills, and the ability to critically evaluate their own work, as well as published scientific literature, will also be necessary.  

Experience of thin film synthesis (PVD or CVD), materials characterisation (e.g. SEM, EDX, XPS, XRD, Raman), food packaging and/or life cycle analysis (LCA) will be an advantage, but is not essential, as all required training will be provided.

Much of the experimental work for this project will take place at Bobst Manchester in Heywood, near Bury and the candidate must be willing and able to travel there to work on a regular basis.

Student eligibility 

Fully-funded PhD (home fees), stipend paid at UKRI rate (2021/22 rate £15,609). This opportunity is open to Home / overseas applicants. Overseas applicants will be expected to pay the difference between the home and overseas rates.

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