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Precise, Rapid and Scalable Sustainable Polymer Synthesis by Automated Catalytic Flow Reactors

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Antoine Buchard
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath has launched a joint PhD programme with Monash University, Australia.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for up to four funded studentships. More details are available here: http://www.csct.ac.uk/study-with-us/

Home institution: Bath University
Supervisor at Bath: Dr Antoine Buchard (lead)
Supervisor at Monash: Prof Tanja Junkers

Context

Polymers and the problems associated with their misguided use and disposal have recently fallen into the public eye, and are driving further research into sustainable plastic materials. One vision for sustainable polymers is that of a class of materials, derived from renewable feedstocks, which exhibit closed-loop life cycles, including enhanced degradability and chemical recyclability. The synthesis of some of these renewable polymers (e.g. poly(lactic acid), arguably one of the success story in this field) occurs industrially via the ring-opening polymerisation (ROP) using a homogeneous tin(II) based catalyst, which has been for a long time under scrutiny because of residual toxicity concerns. Using heterogeneous catalysts for ROP, in particular under industrially relevant solvent free conditions, is a promising strategy to limit residual metal content, but also to propose new ways of manufacturing these polymers.

Recently, at Bath, the Buchard group (www.buchargroup.org) has developed single site metal complexes immobilised onto an inert poly(styrene) support, which are very active and fast ROP catalysts, display excellent polymerisation control, can be reused and leave little metal residue behind.[1] Furthermore, these catalysts are ideally suited to be translated from batch to flow processes and to disrupt the established production of polymers made by ROP. In Monash, the Junkers group (www.polymatter.net) specialises in the precise engineering of polymers using flow processes and on-line analysis of polymerisation reactions.[2] Recently, they have developed a continuous flow system for automated high-throughput screening and autonomous optimisation of radical polymerisations. This platform comprises a flow reactor coupled to size exclusion chromatography (SEC), and is controlled by a machine-learning algorithm that continuously vary reaction parameters until target molecular weights are achieved.[3-4]

In this project, we aim to build on some preliminary collaborative interactions (including the short secondment of a PhD student from the Buchard group in Monash) and investigate if autonomous flow polymerisation processes can be applied to ROP reactions, including using some novel heterogeneous catalysts and some novel monomers from sugars.[5-6] This will not only propose a new way to produce these sustainable polymers, but also allow to rapidly and precisely create a wide range of polymers for analysis, so that improved materials can be developed using an efficient feedback loop. In addition, by adjusting reactions conditions further, the autonomous set-up and the catalysts developed will also be amenable to depolymerisation studies, so as to assess the potential of promising renewable polymers for chemical recycling.

Application process

We invite applications from Science and Engineering graduates who have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second class degree and have a strong interest in Sustainable & Circular Technologies.

You MUST express interest for three projects in order of preference – you can see all projects here: https://www.csct.ac.uk/bath-monash-global-phd-programme/ . Please submit your application at the Home institution of your preferred project (‘Home’ institution details can be found in the project summary). However, please note that you are applying for a joint PhD programme and applications will be processed as such.

University of Bath

Please submit your application through the following link: https://www.csct.ac.uk/bath-monash-global-phd-programme/
Please make sure to mention in the “finance” section of your application that you are applying for funding through the joint Bath/Monash PhD programme for your specified projects.

In the “research interests” section of your application, please name the three projects you are interested in and rank them in order of preference. Please also include the names of the Bath lead supervisors.

Monash University

Expressions of interest (EoI) can be lodged through https://www.monash.edu/science/bath-monash-program. The EoI should provide the following information:
CV including details of citizenship, your Official Academic Transcripts, key to grades/grading scale of your transcripts, evidence of English language proficiency (IELTS or TOEFL, for full requirements see: https://www.monash.edu/graduate-research/faqs-and-resources/content/chapter-two/2-2), and two referees and contact details (optional). You must provide a link to these documents in Section 8 using Google Drive (Instructions in Section 8).

Funding Notes

Bath Monash PhD studentships include tuition fee sponsorship and a living allowance (stipend) for the course duration (up to 42 months maximum). Note, however, that studentships for Bath-based projects will provide cover for UK/EU tuition fees ONLY. Non-Australian nationals studying in Australia will be required to pay their own Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC).

Additional and suitably qualified applicants who can access a scholarship/studentship from other sources will be also considered.

References

1) I. C. Howard, C. Hammond and A. Buchard, Polym. Chem. 2019, 10, 5894-5904.
2) T. Junkers, J. Flow. Chem 2018, 7, 106-110
3) M. Rubens, J.H. Vrijsen, J. Laun and T. Junkers, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2019, 58, 3183-3187
4) M. Rubens and T. Junkers, Polym. Chem. 2019, 10, 6315-6323.
5) T. M. McGuire, C. Pérale, R. Castaing, G. I. Kociok-Köhn and A. Buchard, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 13301-13305.
6) G. L. Gregory, L. M. Jenisch, B. Charles, G. I. Kociok-Köhn, A. Buchard, Macromolecules 2016, 49, 7165-7169.

How good is research at University of Bath in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 33.10

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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