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Improved pretreatments and fractionation of soft and hardwoods to access feedstock chemicals

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Nicholas Westwood
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

This PhD will appeal to candidates who are interested in combining skills in chemistry with a drive to develop the use of renewable resources. It is a very interdisciplinary PhD that will involve research in chemistry and the processing of biomass. Skills in range of analytical techniques will be developed to study the structure of the biomass being used.

The use of ALL the natural polymers present in softwoods remains difficult. For example, the separation of lignin from the sugar-based polymers (to enable efficient fermentation) is challenging, especially for softwoods. There are methods available to achieve this (eg the Kraft process) but they result in extensive modification of the lignin rendering it suitable only for burning. Whilst burning the lignin stream to return energy to a biorefinery is important, there are other potentially more lucrative uses for lignin. These include its depolymerisation to give feedstock aromatic chemicals and its use as a core unit in novel materials preparation.

To achieve this, high quality lignin is required and this is the first goal of this work. You will develop and optimise novel protocols for separating the polymers from wood and assess the quality of the lignin you produce. You will then devise cutting-edge methods to isolate small aromatic compounds from the lignin. You will also work on the sugar-containing components of the biomass.

The fully funded PhD will be highly interdisciplinary with the successful candidate having a background in either chemistry or biochemistry (1st class or 2.1 class degree at either BSc or Masters level), with a strong motivation to span the disciplines, and a willingness to learn new skills.

Informal enquiries are welcome to either Nick Westwood ([Email Address Removed]). Potential applicants are welcome to arrange to visit St Andrews at any time and we will start to interview as soon as suitable candidates apply.

Please see: for the application procedure or e-mail [Email Address Removed] for more information regarding PhD opportunities at St Andrews. We also encourage applications for the ESI-CAT Centre for Doctoral Training ( and from Chinese nationals through the St Andrews CSC Scheme (

Funding Notes

Thisposition is funded via The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) in collaboration with Robert Stubbs, Director of the Scottish Forestry Trust and Andy Leitch (Industrial Supervisor), Forestry Commission Scotland. It is a fully funded 4-year PhD position with a 3 month industrial placement. The successful candidate will be part of the highly-rated IBioIC CTP - and will be involved in all aspects of its training programme . This CTP has been running since 2017 with a wide range of projects being supported - for some examples The candidate must be available to start on 27th September 2019.


For a taster of the challenges inherent in developing a more sustainable society please see

For some recent papers on biomass use from the Westwood group please see:
1. Selective Primary Alcohol Oxidation of Lignin Streams from Butanol-​Pretreated Agricultural Waste Biomass. Panovic, Isabella; Lancefield, Christopher S.; Phillips, Darren; Gronnow, Mark J.; Westwood, Nicholas J. ChemSusChem (2019), 12(2), 542-548.DOI:10.1002/cssc.201801971
2. Is oxidation-​reduction a real robust strategy for lignin conversion? A comparative study on lignin and model compounds. Guo, Haiwei; Miles-Barrett, Daniel M.; Zhang, Bo; Wang, Aiqin; Zhang, Tao; Westwood, Nicholas J.; Li, Changzhi. Green Chemistry (2019), 21(4), 803-811. DOI:10.1039/c8gc02670j
2. Pre-treatment of lignocellulosic feedstocks using biorenewable alcohols: towards complete biomass valorisation. Lancefield, C.S., Panovic, I., Deuss, P.J., Barta, K., Westwood, N.J., Green Chem. (2017) 19, 202-214 and a linked patent application.
3.Use of Bisulfite Processing To Generate High-β-O‑4 Content Water-Soluble Lignosulfonates. Daniel M. Miles-Barrett, James R. D. Montgomery, Christopher S. Lancefield, David B. Cordes, Alexandra M. Z. Slawin, Tomas Lebl, Reuben Carr, and Nicholas J. Westwood* ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (2), pp 1831–1839 DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02566
4. Isolation of Functionalized Phenolic Monomers through Selective Oxidation and C-O Bond Cleavage of the β-O-4 Linkages in Lignin. Lancefield, C.S., Ojo, O.S., Tran, F., Westwood, N.J.*, Angewandte Chemie, International Edition (2015), 54(1), 258-262.
5. Aromatic monomers by in situ conversion of reactive intermediates in the acid-catalyzed depolymerization of lignin. Deuss P.J., Scott M., Tran F., Westwood N.J., De Vries J.G.*, Barta K.* Journal of the American Chemical Society, (2015) 137(23), 7456-7467.
6. The synthesis and analysis of lignin-bound Hibbert ketone structures in technical lignins. Miles-Barrett, D.M., Neal, A.R., Hand, C., Montgomery, J.R.D., Panovic, I., Ojo, O.S., Lancefield, C.S., Cordes, D.B., Slawin, A.M.Z., Lebl, T., Westwood, N. J.*, Org. Biomol. Chem. (2016) 14, 10023-10030.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Chemistry?
(joint submission with University of Edinburgh)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 37.30

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