Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes

NERC GW4+ DTP PhD project - Polymers from sugars: development of emerging sustainable plastics and investigation of their impact on the marine environment

   Department of Chemistry

  Dr Antoine Buchard  Monday, January 10, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Bath United Kingdom Ecology Ecotoxicology Marine Sciences Pollution Polymer Chemistry Polymers

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP) for entry in October 2022. The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter and Cardiff University plus five prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad multi-disciplinary training, designed to produce tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Supervisory Team:

Lead Supervisor: Dr Antoine Buchard, University of Bath, Department of Chemistry

Co-Supervisor: Dr Matthew Cole, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Marine Ecology & Biodiversity

Co-Supervisor: Prof Pennie Lindeque, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Marine Ecology & Biodiversity

Project Background:

In 2019, the production of polymer materials exceeded 368 Mt worldwide. Polymers are everywhere, in the form of visible and less visible products (e.g., plastics and rubbers, but also excipients in paints, lubricants, coatings and drugs). The intensive use of polymers brings challenges associated with their predominant reliance on fossil-fuel resources, limited end-of-life options and environmental persistence. Polymers have thus been accumulating in landfill or in the natural environment, and will persist for centuries, releasing pollutants and harming wildlife. Plastic debris can have adverse health effects on marine life, including impacts on feeding, growth and reproduction, with potentially repercussions for marine ecosystems, food security and societal wellbeing.

Scientists must develop polymers that are environmentally benign and possess properties required for current and emerging applications. One vision for sustainable polymers is that of a class of materials, derived from renewable feedstocks, which exhibit closed-loop life cycles. Such polymers exist, but they suffer from inadequate performances, limiting their utility. At the University of Bath, a new class of polymers, derived from natural sugars, has been developed, with promising potential in bulk plastic (packaging, film formers) as well as specialty (battery electrolyte) packaging. However, there is currently a disconnect between the development of novel materials, from renewable and non-renewable feedstocks, and the study of their environmental impact.

Project Aims and Methods:

This project aims to address this problem by training a researcher capable of conducting, in parallel, the development of novel polymers and an early study of their potential environmental impact. The project is envisaged as involving a continuous feedback loop between these two aspects, with the objectives to unravel the structure/property relationship of new sustainable polymers, which will provide design guidelines for the development of future materials with minimal impact on the marine environment. The project methodology will involve a combination of novel polymer synthesis and exploring the fate and biological impact of such polymers in the marine environment. At Bath, the student will be trained in novel bio-monomer design, controlled polymerisation techniques (e.g., ring-opening (co)polymerisation) and material characterisation. At PML, the student will have opportunities to co-design experiments to compare the biodegradability and ecotoxicity of both novel and comparator polymer composites under varying environmental conditions, using a marine invertebrate (e.g., copepods, mussels) as the study organism.

Project Partners:

This project will be carried out across the University of Bath and Plymouth Marine Laboratory: novel sugar-based polymers will be produced at Bath (, with their potential impact on the marine environment to be explored at PML ( This research will be complementary to the project “Biodegradable Bioplastics - Assessing Environmental Risk (BIO-PLASTIC-RISK)”, funded by NERC across the University of Bath, the University of Plymouth, and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), which is focused on commercial biodegradable bioplastics. The successful candidate will therefore have the opportunity to be integrated within this project and learn from the established multidisciplinary team, while conserving their individual research focus towards the next generation of sustainable plastics.


Training will be provided in the following areas: synthetic polymer chemistry, utilisation of renewable feedstocks and material characterisation (Bath), and biodegradation and toxicity testing (PML). The set of skills acquired by the PhD researcher by the end of their studies, at the interface of material and marine science, will be highly sought after and will enable them to become the next generation of science leaders. In addition, both Bath and the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership proposes a range of training events and skills development throughout the PhD. The researcher will also be encouraged to present their results at (inter)national conferences and to participate to the preparation of publication drafts.

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an area appropriate to the skills requirements of the project.

This PhD would suit a student with experience of synthetic polymer chemistry. Key to this project is a willingness and interest in working across scientific disciplines and engaging with a broad team of researchers with diverse backgrounds, to deliver sustainable materials with minimal environmental impact.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Antoine Buchard, .

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Chemistry.

When completing the form, please identify your application as being for the NERC GW4+ DTP studentship competition in Section 3 Finance (question 2) and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section. If you wish, you may apply for more than one project within the same application but you should submit a separate personal statement for each one.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

We welcome and encourage student applications from under-represented groups.  We value a diverse research environment. If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Funding Notes

Candidates may be considered for a NERC GW4+ DTP studentship tenable for 3.5 years. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£15,609 p/a in 2021/22) and a generous allowance for research expenses and travel. Studentships are open to both Home and International students; however, International applicants should note that funding does NOT cover the cost of a student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK. In line with guidance from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the number of awards available to International candidates will be limited to 30% of the total.


1) Control of Crystallinity and Stereocomplexation of Synthetic Carbohydrate Polymers from D‐ and L‐Xylose.
McGuire TM, Bowles J, Deane, E, Farrar EHE, Grayson MN, Buchard A. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2021, 60, 4524-4528.
2) Effects of nylon microplastic on feeding, lipid accumulation, and moulting in a coldwater copepod. Cole M, Coppock R, Lindeque PK, Altin D, Reed S, Pond DW, Sørensen L, Galloway TS, Booth AM. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2019, 53, 7075-7082.
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