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Reactive and Adaptive Separations to Enable Sustainable Chemistry

   Department of Chemical Engineering

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  Dr H Leese, Dr Simon Freakley  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Bath United Kingdom Applied Chemistry Ceramics Chemical Engineering Environmental Chemistry Industrial Chemistry Inorganic Chemistry Nanotechnology Physical Chemistry Polymers Synthetic Chemistry

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project commencing in January 2022.

Funding is available to candidates who qualify for ‘Home’ fee status. Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the rules governing fee status have changed and, therefore, candidates from the EU/EEA are advised to check their eligibility before applying. Please see the Funding Eligibility section below for more information.


Project team: Dr Hannah Leese & Dr Simon Freakley

Informal queries should be directed to Dr Leese - [Email Address Removed]


A sustainable society requires the use of renewable resources; which can have variable compositions depending on their source and location. The separation of the valuable components from a crude mixture is expensive and energy intensive prior to entering the upgrading process. We propose to develop new materials, which separate renewable feedstocks from complex mixtures and simultaneously upgrade the material to value added products. The methodology will be applied to produce chemicals from plant derived sugars and the breakdown of consumer plastic waste.

Typically, when developing catalysts we work with purified single component mixtures to evaluate the activity of new materials. However, large-scale purification of complex mixtures prior to catalytic transformation can be costly and energy intensive. Highly active catalysts are typically porous high surface structures allowing diffusion of molecules through the internal structure. Recently the development of porous membranes based on alumina, a common catalyst support material, have been used as size selective filtration devices in separation and biomedical applications. Due to the highly orientated pore networks, fluids can flow through these porous systems with significantly reduced pressure requirements than typical packed catalyst beds. We can combine selective filtration and catalytic transformation in a “reactive filtration” where molecules selected by the pore size of the membrane can be selectively transformed in the presence of a mixture of reagents with different steric bulk.

The project will utilise model catalyst systems based on Pd and Pt nanoparticles prepared by colloidal methods to investigate the kinetics of a range of hydrogenation reactions. These reactions include the selective transformation of a range of ketones to alcohols with differing steric bulk and the selective reaction of cis/trans alkene isomers in comparison to reactions carried out on non-porous alumina.


• Develop catalyst preparation methods to locate metal nanoparticles inside the membrane with a range of controlled pore sizes.

• Evaluate the synthesised catalysts hydrogenation and oxidation reactions of mixtures of compounds with differing steric demands.

• Demonstrate that catalytic membranes can selectively convert molecules contained in complex mixture based on size and diffusion effects.

• Characterise the samples by SEM/TEM using tilt stage and tomography to evaluate the effectiveness of immobilisation of particles within the membrane channel

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, an undergraduate Masters first class degree or MSc distinction (or non-UK top-tier University) in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering (or a relevant subject).


Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Chemical Engineering. Please ensure that you state the full project title and lead supervisor name on the application form.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Expected start date: 17 January 2022

Fee status:

Information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website

Funding Notes

A studentship includes ‘Home’ tuition fees, a stipend (£15,609 per annum, 2021/22 rate) and research/training expenses (£1,000 per annum) for up to 3.5 years.
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