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  Recycling of poly (urethane) foam mattresses using ionic liquids

   Department of Chemical Engineering

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  Prof C Hardacre, Prof I Kinloch  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Creating a sustainable furniture industry There is an increasing desire to recycle poly(urethane) (PU) foam products such as a mattresses and upholstery to prevent them going to landfill. A common recycling route is to produce rebonded products, such as carpet underlays and sporting surfaces, by shredding the old foam and bonding the resultant particles back together. However, only foams with a known origin are currently recycled due to government restrictions on legacy additives such as fire retardants. Hence in practice, companies could be limited to using off-cuts from their manufacturing customers and cannot use consumer waste.

This PhD project will work with Vitafoam to develop new solvent extraction techniques to remove organophosphate or brominated chemicals from shredded recycled foams. This clean-up will allow recycled foams from unknown sources to be used in rebonded products, enabling the reduction of waste going to landfill. We will focus the extraction of TCPP (tris (1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate) and melamine, both of which are currently subject to review under EU Reach regulation. Ionic liquids (ILs) will be used for the extraction due to their low volatility and tuneability compared to traditional organic solvents. Initially the anion and cations will be optimised to obtain the highest possible solubility of the pure fire retardants. The optimised IL then will be assessed to extract the retardants from recycled foam with known additives that has been shredded to the typical dimensions used in rebonding. Finally, the cleaned recycled foams will be assessed in the rebonding process. Working with Vitafoam engineers, the new process will be approximately costed and scaled up within the lab.

This project is interdisciplinary and you will be studying across the Dept. of Materials Science, Dept. of Chemical Engineering and the newly opened Henry Royce Institute. You will be part of the vibrant research groups of Professors Hardacre and Kinloch. You will be also working closely with Vitafoam (, which is co-sponsoring the project and is based locally within Greater Manchester. There will be an opportunity to do some of the research at the Manchester Vitafoam sites.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have or expect to achieve at least a 2.1 honours degree in Materials Science, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering or a related subject.

Before you apply 

You MUST make contact with the lead project supervisor - Prof Hardacre - [Email Address Removed] - before applying.

How to apply 

To be considered for this project you’ll need to complete a formal application through our online application portal

When applying, you’ll need to specify the full name of this project, the name of your supervisor, how you’re planning on funding your research, details of your previous study, and names and contact details of two referees

Your application will not be processed without all of the required documents submitted at the time of application, and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered.  

If you have any questions about making an application, please contact our admissions team by emailing [Email Address Removed]

Equality, diversity and inclusion 

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status. 

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder). 

Chemistry (6) Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

The project is funded by the University of Manchester and Vitafoam and covers stipends and home fees for 3.5 years. International students are welcome to apply but will need to cover the difference in fee cost.
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