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Efficient production of high-value chemicals with electrocatalysis


   Thursday, June 30, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Supervisory Team:   Peter Wells, Nuria Garcia-Araez, Richard Wills

Project description

A PhD position is available as part of a new Centre of Excellence launching soon called Light and Electrochemical Activated Processes for Chemical Industries (LEAP). The intention of LEAP is to coordinate the University of Southampton’s distinctive strengths in photonic materials and electrochemistry to tackle the challenge of decarbonising the chemical industry. The initiative brings together academics from Chemistry, Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and the Optoelectronics Research Centre that will improve our fundamental understanding of these complex processes and develop engineered solutions that can be applied at scale.

Our industrialised society is dependent on the chemical industry – be it for food, fuels, or medicines. As we transition towards a net-zero carbon future, there is a need to make chemical transformations more efficient. Thermally controlled processes that are ubiquitous in the chemical industry have an inherent inefficiency, regardless of how well macroscopic heat management demands are controlled. Photo/electrochemical technologies – reactions that are driven by light or directly by electricity – represent an alternative approach to produce both commodity and fine chemicals that have the potential to be significantly more efficient.

The oxidation of olefins to produce high value chemicals, such as ethylene oxide for the manufacture of plastics, via thermal-activated processes produces as much CO2 as the desired chemical (Science 2020, 368, 1228–1233). In contrast, electrochemical methods offer a low-temperature route with much higher selectivity, but further work is required to identify electrocatalytic materials able to operate at the required industrial production rates. This project will investigate state-of-the-art materials with novel characterisation techniques, using industrially relevant cell designs, to guide such development. The project will be supervised by a multidisciplinary team with unique expertise in characterisation (Dr. Peter Wells), electrocatalysis (Dr. Nuria Garcia-Araez), and industrial electrochemistry (Dr. Richard Wills). Benchmark experiments will be carried out with nanostructed gold and palladium materials, as used in thermal catalysis (Science, 2017, 355, 6332; Nature Catalysis, 2019, 2, 157-163), with further investigation of new materials based on the understanding the difference in reactivity in gas phase and electrochemical environments. The use of industrially relevant reactors will ensure transferability of the laboratory discoveries to industry, and technoeconomic analyses will be employed to select the most promising processes based on the economic viability and environmental sustainability. 

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Peter Wells, Email: , Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 6826.

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent) in chemistry or allied subjects/relevant disciplines.

Closing date: Applications will be considered in the order that they are received, and the position will be considered filled when a suitable candidate has been identified.

Funding: For UK students, Tuition Fees and a stipend of £16,062 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years.

How To Apply

Applications should be made online. Select programme type (Research), 2022/23, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, next page select “PhD Chemistry (Full time)”. In Section 2 of the application form you should insert the name of the supervisor Peter Wells

Applications should include:

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/courses/how-to-apply/postgraduate-applications.page

For general queries about the application process, please contact:

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