Making Electrosynthesis Water-Friendly
The Group of Surface Chemistry and Electrochemistry at Curtin Chemistry, Perth, invites applications for one PhD position focusing on electrosynthesis.
Applicants should be highly motivated and have an honours or master degree (or equivalent) in chemistry, or other relevant discipline. Applicants do not need to be Australian citizens. Basic electrochemistry knowledge and experience synthesis is preferred, but not strictly required. The PhD stipend at Curtin is fixed at approximately 29000 AUD per year (tax free).
One of the technical and scientific challenges of the 21st century is to develop and deploy sustainable methods of using traditional carbon-based fuels, together with the rapidly increasing amount of new carbon-neutral electricity. The chemical industry is a major energy consumer, and one obvious solution towards efficiently integrating renewable electricity into chemical manufacturing is the electrification of industrial organic reactions, that is, replacing conventional molecular reactants with electricity. However, while there are several hundreds of known organic electro-synthetic processes, only a handful are implemented industrially. Examples of electrochemical organic syntheses that have progressed beyond the pilot plant stage are rare.
The limited industrial success for organic electricity-driven reactions lies in the difficulty of finding reactions that proceed, with viable speed and selectivity, in the solvent of choice in industry: water. While on the one hand limited reaction viability in bulk water appears as a seemingly insurmountable technical task, on the other hand chemists are aware of the dramatic acceleration or reaction rates reported for several organic reactions when they occur at the water’s surface, instead of in bulk water.
Over the last 15 years “on-water” catalysis has become synonymous of a rate acceleration effect observed when organic reactions occur on the surface of water,or at its interface with materials of low permittivity, such as oils and gases. The full spectrum of physicochemical factors at behind on-water catalysis is still unclear, but the catalytic role of the water surface appears to involve confinement of reagents, inhibition of translational and intramolecular rotations, partial solvation and/or changes in hydration shell, together with intrinsically large local electric fields at the hydrophobic–water interface.
Our 2020 proof-of-concept of the corona of a surface bubble catalysing specific sets of redox reactions (hydroxide anions to hydroxyl radicals, and the stepwise radical polymerization of aniline analogues) has overturned the long-held assumption that surface-adherent gas cavities are redox-inactive, and defined a method to merge on-water catalysis and electro organic synthesis. In this project, focusing on reductive coupling reactions, and coupling on-water electrochemistry with conventional chemical analysis (liquid chromatography), we will use the localised on-water peaks in current densities as well as local increases in the water autoinization constant and surface trapping of hydroxide ions to optimise the selective formation of the desired product in industrially relevant hydrodimerisation of adiponitrile and of cinnamic acid derivatives.
The student will be part of multidisciplinary research team, where collaboration with other experimentalists and with theoretical and computational experts endows this project with an interdisciplinary character and with the prospects of verifying the potential for new frontiers in electro-synthesis.
How to apply: Please direct enquiries and requests for further information to Dr Simone Ciampi ([Email Address Removed]). Interested applicants should include a copy of their CV and a brief statement of their research interests in an initial correspondence. Details on the formal application procedure can be found at https://futurestudents.curtin.edu.au/international/.
Further information on our research activities at: