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Efficient upgrading of biogas via plasma catalysis - LEVERHULME

Project Description

In recent years, plasma-catalysis has emerged as a promising technology to improve the performance of existing catalytic processes. The use of non-thermal plasmas in particular has proven effective in enabling catalysts to operate at low temperatures for a range of reactions [1-3]. In non-thermal plasmas, gas temperature can be as low as environmental, however highly energetic electrons colliding with molecules can produce a variety of species such as free radicals, excited states, ions, and other molecules that can participate in subsequent reactions. As such, there are species in the plasma, available to react on catalyst surfaces, which would typically be observed only at equilibrium systems of much higher temperature [4]. In certain cases, even synergistic effects have been experimentally demonstrated, where the performance achieved with plasma-catalysis was higher than the sum of plasma-alone and catalysis-alone [1,5].

Focus of the research programme will be on the plasma-catalytic conversion of biogas towards higher hydrocarbons and/or oxygenates and syngas. A combined experimental and computational approach will be followed, with specific research objectives further defined based on the skills, experience and interests of the candidate. The experimental work will utilise an existing dielectric barrier discharge reactor setup and aim at elucidating reaction pathways and identifying most promising catalytic materials for the reaction. Optical Emission Spectrometry (OES) will be used to detect plasma phase reactive intermediates. The modelling work will benefit from an already developed elaborate plasma-chemical kinetic model for methane conversion that account for catalytic effects and will focus on extending the latter to include pathways of carbon dioxide. Microkinetic modelling will specifically be utilised to allow the systematic consideration of all elementary reaction processes taking place in the plasma phase and on the catalyst surface and the explicit description of the interactions between them, linking with the information obtained via OES.

The studentship forms part of wider research in our School in the field of plasma-catalysis and will greatly benefit from and contribute to these efforts. The excellent research facilities and world-class expertise will provide a very attractive opportunity for a highly motivated PhD student looking to progress a career in the exciting field of chemical reaction engineering at the interface of plasma science.

Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit. The successful candidate should have, or expect to obtain, a UK Honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in Chemical Engineering or other relevant discipline and, preferably, have the below skills:

• Familiarity with methane and syngas conversion processes.
• Knowledge in reaction kinetics analysis and/or kinetic and reactor modelling.
• Experience in programming using e.g. FORTRAN, MATLAB or equivalent.
• Experience in the operation of experimental apparatus and/or in the preparation and characterization of catalysts.


Formal applications can be completed online:

• Apply for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering
• State the name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
• State ‘Leverhulme CDT in Sustainable Production of Chemicals and Materials’ as the Intended Source of Funding
• State the exact project title on the application form

Further information on the Leverhulme Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Sustainable Production of Chemical and Material can be found at:

Funding Notes

Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars will receive maintenance costs at Research Council rates and tuition fees at the rate for UK/EU students. In 2019/2020 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,141 per annum. International applicants who can pay the difference between the Home and International Fees would also be welcome to apply.


[1] H.L. Chen, H.M. Lee, et al., Appl. Catal. B Environ. 85 (2008) 1–9.
[2] C.E. Stere, W. Adress, et al., ACS Catal. 4 (2014) 666–673.
[3] H.L. Chen, H.M. Lee, et al., Environ. Sci. Technol. 43 (2009) 2216–2227.
[4] J.C. Whitehead, J. Phys. D. Appl. Phys. 49 (2016) 243001.
[5] T. Nozaki et al., Catal. Today 211 (2013) 29–38.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in General Engineering?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 38.60

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

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