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PhD Studentship in Polyester Plastic Recycling Using Low-cost Ionic Liquids

Project Description

We are inviting applications of motivated candidates for a PhD studentship in the exciting field of ‘Advanced plastic recycling’. The studentship includes fees and a bursary for suitable UK national/residents for the duration of 3 years. The studentship is available for a start from 1 October 2019. The deadline for application is 8 January 2019.

Persistent pollution of the environment with plastic is a major challenge. At the same time, plastic is also a valuable resource, and the best outcome after their initial use is recycling into a new product rather than landfilling, incineration or persisting in the environment. One reason for the low effectiveness of plastic recycling and limited value of post-consumer plastic are issues with mechanical recycling (remoulding), due to general degradation of the polymer structure and contamination with components such as metals, dyes, and labels. Renewable and non-renewable polyesters are a major part of the plastic economy. The amount of polyethylene terehtalate (PET) produced in 2015 was 33 million tonnes according to the World Economic Forum; it is the fourth most common plastic, used in drink bottles, food packaging and textiles. Emerging renewable and biodegradable polyester materials, for example polylactic acid (PLA), will also need high quality recycling routes to retain their economic value. Such polyesters are suitable candidates for a new route to plastic recycling called chemical recycling, where the polymer is deconstructed into its building blocks, which can then be recovered in purified form and used to produce virgin grade material.

Ionic liquids are a new class of solvents that have interesting and unique properties such as non-volatility, in-built catalytic functionality and a broad range of solvation characteristics that can be tuned to suit an application. In this project, we will explore the use of stable, low-cost ionic liquids for the recycling of polyesters. The successful candidate will screen a range of suitable ionic solvents and optimise their composition for effectiveness and low cost, followed by optimising processing conditions and recovery of a range of polyester monomers, while monitoring the fate of contaminants. The new system will be compared with other chemical recycling approaches. Once we have identified an effective system, we will carry out an economic assessment.

You will join two dynamic interdisciplinary research teams focusing on sustainable materials analysis and process development; applicants should have excellent understanding of physical science and / or chemical engineering, with a deep interest in sustainable chemistry, solvent selection, polymer characterisation and process development, combined with outstanding teamwork and communication skills and a passion to make a true positive difference to the global environment. Some experience with examining reaction mechanisms and molecular structure is preferable. Candidates should have (or be expecting to have) a Master’s degree (1st class or upper second class) in chemistry, chemical engineering or a relevant discipline.

This PhD studentship will be funded through the DTP ‘Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet’ supported by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council (

Funding Notes

Open to UK home students or non-UK students who have settled status in UK or were ordinarily residing in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. The studentship will cover tuition fees plus the standard London-weighted maintenance stipend of £16,777 per year.

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