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Liquid crystalline electrolytes for energy conversion

School of Engineering

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Dr A Martinez-Felipe No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Current challenges in the energy area require technologies capable to secure sustainable power supply for the present and next generations. Direct methanol and ethanol fuel cells, DMFCs and DEFCs, respectively, hold promise as portable energy conversion devices due to their high power density, low temperatures operation, rapid start-up times, and application of renewable sources to produce energy vectors1. Currently, these technologies are limited by fuel (alcohol) crossover from anode to cathode, which causes a mixed potential that ultimately reduces cell efficiency2. During the past years a wide range of hydrocarbon-based polymers for DMFCs and DEFCs have been investigated as alternatives to commercial perfluorinated materials, but to date high proton conduction and low alcohol diffusion across the electrolyte are mutually incompatible, due to the presence of water3.

The project aims to develop new nanostructured electrolytes with anisotropic ionic pathways that promote high proton conduction, via ion hopping, and ultimately enhance DMFC/DEFC efficiency under dry conditions. Liquid crystals will be used to regulate the electrolytes microstructure (and transport properties) by external stimuli such as temperature, electrical fields or UV light.

Specific objectives are:
- Synthesis of a series of liquid crystalline block copolymers, LC-BCs, containing polar groups in their structure4.
- Complete physic-chemical characterisation in order to determine relationships between the polymer composition/architecture and liquid crystal behaviour.
- Determination of proton conductivity and its correlation to the microstructure of the electrolytes.
- Determination of water and alcohol absorption, as a measure of fuel crossover.

The project will be carried out in the School of Engineering at the University of Aberdeen, using recently upgraded infrastructure, laboratories and equipment. All the experimental work will be supported by well-trained technicians, in company of other PhD, MSc and UG students, and in cooperation with several international groups.

The successful candidate should have, or expect to obtain, a UK Honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering or relevant disciplines.

• Knowledge in polymer and liquid crystal science.
• Experience in synthetic laboratories, including structural and physic-chemical characterisation of organic compounds.
• Experience in data analysis.
• Familiarity with energy conversion processes.

The start date of the project is to be agreed with the supervisors.

Funding Notes

Tuition Fees will be paid at UK/EU rates which for 2016/2017 will be £3,800. A maintenance stipend of £14,296 per annum, will also be paid monthly, in arrears. Applications from International students can be accepted but they must be able to cover the difference between UK/EU and International tuition fees which for 2016/2017 will be £13,400. If they cannot meet the difference we would NOT encourage an application.


1. Corti HC, Gonzalez ER. Direct alcohol fuel cells, materials, performance, durability and applications. New York; London: Springer Dordrecht Heidelberg; 2014; Behling NH. Fuel cells current technology challenges and future research needs, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier; 2013
2. Kumar P et al. Int J Energy Res 2014;38(11):1367-90
3. Kreuer K et al. Angew. Chem.-Int. Ed. En. 1982;21(3):208-9.
Awang N et al. React. Funct. Polym. 2015 ;86:248-58; Dutta K et al. Polym. Rev. 2014 2;54(1):1-32
4. Pebalk, D.A., et al. Russ. Chem. Rev, 2005. 74: 555–576; Martinez-Felipe A. Liq. Cryst. 2011 2011;38(11-12):1607-26; Montane X. et al. Polymer 2015 1;66:100-9; Martinez-Felipe A. et al. Polymer 2012 7;53(13):2604-12; Martinez-Felipe A. et al. Eur. Polym. Sci. 2013 2013;49(6):1553-63; Martinez-Felipe A. et al. I&EC Res. 2013 3;52(26):8714-21

Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct College for processing. PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU QUOTE THE PROJECT TITLE AND SUPERVISOR NAME ON THE APPLICATION FORM.

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr A Martinez-Felipe ([email protected]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Unit ([email protected]).
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