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Development of Sustainable Solid-supported Strong Acid Catalysts

Project Description

The Centre for Sustainable & Circular Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath focuses on developing new molecules, materials, processes and systems from the lab right through to industrial application, with an emphasis on practical sustainability. We train scientists and engineers to work together with industry to meet the needs of current and future generations. For more information on the CSCT, see

All PhD students in the Centre will have the opportunity to take part in an extensive training programme including public engagement, sustainable technology, design of experiments, patents and entrepreneurship training sessions. Students will also have the opportunity to take part in Student Symposia, the CSCT Summer Showcase and public engagement opportunities such as the popular Festival of Nature.

We are now accepting applications to work with our industrial partner, Phosphonics ( on this exciting PhD project.

Supervisory team:

Professor Matthew Davidson, Department of Chemistry (lead)
Professor Janet L Scott, Department of Chemistry
Dr Pawel Plucinski, Department of Chemical Engineering
Dr Paul Murray, PhosphonicS


There are a number of silica based acid catalysts available on the market. The acids have short term stability and can easily be used in a batch processes, but for continuous processes the functionality is not stable enough. Polymer based acids have better stability but poor wettability. There is a desire for a more stable silica based acid catalyst.

There are significant drivers, particularly in China, where significant quantities of bulk chemicals are manufactured, to move away from the large quantities of strong acids being used in industrial processes and to employ potentially cleaner processes. Using a solid supported acid catalyst rather than a liquid acid has a number of benefits including: waste reduction, recyclability of the acid catalyst, simplification of the product isolation; and reduction of the unit operations required (by 75% in some cases).


Here we propose to develop flow processes for the efficient synthesis of a range of dipodal silanes, that can be used to coat silicas, yielding stable materials. Once the stability of the product is established, acid functionality will be introduced, either via the starting dipodal silane, or via post synthetic modification, and the product tested as an industrially relevant strong acid catalyst.

In more detail, this will entail, synthesising and characterising new dipodal silanes and developing processes in suitable flow reactors that allow close control of pressure, temperature, mixing and residence time. Close examination of reaction product distribution and kinetic data will be used to optimise the flow processes and thus to efficiently produce the range of dipodal silanes required. PhosphonicS are experts at the production of silica based materials and the dipodal silanes will be employed to coat known silicas and the stability will be examined. As enhanced stability is postulated to be a function of reduced mobility of the partially hydrolysed product, examination of equilibrium constants of hydrolysis will be used to compare materials and (re)design dipodal silanes. Finally, acid functionality will be introduced to the most stable materials and benchmarked against currently used liquid catalysts on industrially relevant starting materials, e.g. in alkylation or acylation reactions.

The PhD student will work both at the University of Bath and at PhosphonicS site in Compton as appropriate and will thus have the opportunity to develop industrial experience and networks during their PhD research.

Applications & enquiries:

We invite applications from Science and Engineering graduates who have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second class degree and have a strong interest in Sustainable Chemical Technologies.

Informal enquiries about the research project should be directed to Prof Matthew Davidson, .

Enquiries about the application process should be sent to .

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form:

Please ensure that you quote CSCT in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Start date: As soon as possible and by 01/04/2020 at the latest.

NOTE: We are looking to recruit a student for this project as soon as possible; therefore, applications may close earlier than the advertised deadline if a suitable candidate is found. We recommend early application.

Funding Notes

UK and EU citizens applying for this project will be considered for a studentship covering UK/EU tuition fees and a stipend at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 in 2019/20) for a period of up to 3.5 years.

Candidates who are classed as Overseas for tuition fee purposes are unfortunately not eligible for funding.


B. A. Janeiro, B. C. Arkles, United States patent US2007/0060765, 15 March 2007
B. Arkles, Y. Pan, G. L. Larson, M. Singh, Chem. Eur. J., 2014, 20, 9442 – 9450

How good is research at University of Bath in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 33.10

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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