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PhD Studentship - Catalytic biomass pre-treatment and catalytic upgrading of biorefinery streams via combination of ionic liquids with commercial and novel solid catalysts

Project Description

Applications are invited for a three year Postgraduate studentship funded by the School of Engineering and Applied Science, to be undertaken within the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute at Aston University. The successful applicant will join an established experimental group working on catalysis and thermal conversion of biomass.

This studentship is offered in association with the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), which is a collaboration designed to provide scholars with a broader grounding in their research area during their PhD. Some additional components of research training and specially tailored events will be provided by ERA. The successful candidate will be able to join the Supergen Bioenergy Hub and Early career bioenergy research network SHARE, which will offer additional career and research development opportunities.

The position is available to start in either October or April or July, subject to negotiation

Background to the Project

The concerns and repercussions derived from the use of fossil oil for the production chemicals, fuels and energy has triggered the importance of searching feasible alternative routes that can secure sustainable growth of society.

Biorefineries aim to process biomass and lignocellulosic waste feedstock to produce sustainable biofuels, bioproducts and bioenergy. However, the biorefinery concept needs to demonstrate, before scaling at industrial level, that it can integrate efficient processing systems to ensure a circular economy. This research project focusses on improving two key components that can compromise the feasibility of the entire biorefinery plant: the generation of waste streams during biomass pre-treatment by using acid hydrolysis, and the formation of char residues from biomass thermal conversion via pyrolysis.

To improve the efficiency of these two components, this multidisciplinary research aims to link and integrate the reutilisation and reduction of waste streams for the pre-treatment and fast pyrolysis steps, which are key to succeed in the implementation of biorefineries at an industrial scale. The project will explore greener and novel routes for biomass pre-treatment by combining ionic liquids with either commercial solid polymeric resins and/or novel char-based solid catalysts. In addition, it will study the potential to upgrade biomass pyrolysis products focusing on valorisation of bio-oil and solid fractions.

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have a first class or upper second-class honours degree or equivalent qualification in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering. Preferred skill requirements include knowledge/experience of catalysis, kinetics, basic analytical chemistry, thermal conversion of biomass, and reaction engineering.

We would particularly like to encourage applications from women seeking to progress their academic careers. Aston University is committed to the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter, recognised recently by a prestigious Silver Award to EAS, and we pride ourselves on our vibrant, friendly and supportive working environment and family atmosphere.

Contact information
For formal enquiries about this project contact Dr Marta Granollers Mesa by email at , or contact Dr Paula Blanco by email at . Please add the advert number in the email title.

Submitting an application

Details of how to submit your application, and the necessary supporting documents can be found here.

The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, candidates should take this opportunity to detail how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at

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Further particulars and application forms are available in alternative formats on request i.e. large print, Braille, tape or CD Rom.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact HR via

Aston University is an equal opportunities employer and welcomes applications from all sections of the community.

Funding Notes

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the Home/EU fees rate. Home/EU students will also receive a maintenance allowance of £15,009 in 2019/20 (subject to eligibility).

Overseas Applicants

Applicants from outside the EU may apply for this studentship but will need to pay the difference between the ‘Home/EU’ and the ‘Overseas’ tuition fees, currently this is £12,573 in 2019/20.

As part of the application you will be required to confirm that you have applied for, or, secured this additional funding.

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