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Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Waste Recycling by Pyrolysis towards a circular greener approach

   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

   Friday, March 31, 2023  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

About the Project

Applications are invited for a fully funded 4-year PhD project in the area of thermochemical recycling of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) plastic waste in the Institute of Mechanical, Process and Energy Engineering (IMPEE) at Heriot Watt University.


Globally, less than 20% of plastic including Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is recycled, while the rest is incinerated or landfilled, and some ultimately seep out into the environment. Growing concerns over plastics’ contribution to environmental contamination and the climate change issue are pushing towards a more sustainable plastics value chain. Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, about 10 million tonnes of extra PPE plastic waste has been generated from 193 countries. Recycling technologies can reduce the need for new plastics but, since much of the PPE plastic waste cannot be recycled mechanically (e.g. due to contamination reasons), new more efficient processes are required.

Recycling of PPE materials is a key challenge that needs to be met in order to realise the broader decarbonisation programme, and thermo-chemical processing (e.g. pyrolysis) has been identified as a key enabling technology that can meet this challenge. Globus Group, which is the UK leader in PPE manufacturing has recently partnered with Heriot-Watt University to develop a bespoke process for enabling a PPE circular economy by recovering about ~85% of their PPE waste, optimising the PPE circular value chain. Under this scenario, thermo-chemical recycling is widely seen as a “reverse engineering” approach to convert plastic waste into fuels and chemicals contributing to the establishment of a Circular Economy. However, the technical and economic potential of PPE thermo-chemical recycling is not yet fully understood, which is slowing the deployment of such technology.

Outline of PhD

The aim of this PhD will be to further advance the scientific understanding on PPE pyrolysis and its related engineering and logistic aspects towards the technology deployment. The project will involve elements of both chemistry and chemical and process engineering, waste management, life cycle assessment and cost-benefit analysis. In parallel, he/she will look to incorporate the new discoveries into scale versions of pyrolysis process under construction at Globus facilities in Manchester.

Towards this aim, the project will include:

·       Bench scale pyrolysis experimental tests to validate conceptual design and operating capability in terms of operating conditions

·       Products characterisation using standards and advanced techniques

·       Process optimisations focusing on heat integration, maximising profit and minimising greenhouse gas emissions.

·       Techno-economic assessment (TEA) and life-cycle analysis (LCA)

The portfolio of activities will provide the student with expertise highly valuable both in industry and academia; that will provide a wider range of employment options upon graduation.


We are seeking for an exceptionally talented and motivated student to join our research team. The following eligibility criteria apply:

·         The applicant should be a UK national. EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme are also eligible.

·         A first-class or an upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent) in Chemical, Mechanical or Environmental Engineering, or a related discipline.

·         Experience with experimental design and thermochemical conversion experiments.

·         Experience with process simulation and LCA software.

·         Excellent written and oral communication skills, which will be essential for collaboration with other research group members, disseminating the results via journal publications and attendance at international conferences.

How to apply

Applications with a CV, cover letter and academic transcripts should be sent to Dr Aimaro Sanna. The cover letter should include the rational for applying for the position, a summary of previous research experience and an overview of their suitability for the position. Informal inquiries prior to application are also welcome. Suitable applicants will be interviewed, and if successful, invited to make a formal application.

Closing date: 31st March 2023

Funding Notes

This is a 4-years fully funded PhD position by the School of Engineering and Physical sciences (EPS) at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. This will cover tuition fees along with a starting tax-free stipend of approximately £19,000 with an annual incremental increase. There will also be a support available for conference attendance and research consumables.

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