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Polyurethane Foams as Synthetic Soils for Horticulture: food quality and end-of-life recycling

Department of Chemistry

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Prof A Ryan , Dr H Walker No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

A broad group of University of Sheffield researchers have developed low consumption hydroponics that to combine physical and digital systems in a manner suited to the environment and available resources. A key component of these systems is a soil-free medium for plant growth that is based on polyurethane foam. PU foam is ideally suited to such applications having tunable properties through the polymerisation reaction chemistry. Having come to an understand the physical structure and properties required for plant growth it is now timely to understand the sustainability comparators for PU foam (compared to conventional media) and optimise the structure for food quality and end-of-life recycling and reuse.

The objectives of this project are:

-To characterise the structure and performance of a range PU foam forming systems for plant production.

-To understand the process of foam-to-plant-to-crop in terms of food safety.

-Use modern, mass-spectrometry metabolomics methods to characterise the microbiome that develops on the foam and any degradation and leaching from the substrate into the crop.

-To develop new PU polymers suitable for end-of-life processing via biodigestion, follow the degradation and ultimate fate of the PU.

-Investigate the use of catalyst-free formulations with polyester polyols.

-Follow degradation in the biodigester with a particular interest in the aromatic amines resulting from the diisocyanate residues.

The student undertaking this project will have the opportunity to be a University of Sheffield Grantham scholar and to take advantage of the programme of sustainability training offered. The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures focuses on advancing sustainability research and connecting it with the policy debate around how humans can live in a more sustainable way (

Grantham scholars combine outstanding intellect with a strong commitment to public engagement, leadership and action. These ambitious individuals undertake interdisciplinary PhD research projects to help solve the challenges of sustainability. They will be supported by the Centre through a unique training programme, designed to equip them with the skills to become policy advocates and leaders in sustainability matters.

Funding Notes


The EPSRC PhD studentship is fully funded for 3.5 years

• The PhD studentship is available to a UK or EU applicant.

• Applicants should have a first or upper second-class degree at BSc level in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Materials Science/Engineering, or an MSc in a relevant discipline.

• All applications must be submitted via the online portal the link to which and details of required documents, can be found below:
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