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Structure - Reactivity Studies of New Green Solvents

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr T J Dillon, Dr Rob McElroy  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


Environmental sustainability is an issue at the forefront of modern research efforts. Recent estimates suggest solvents account for the majority of waste produced by the chemical industry. These emissions contribute to poor air quality, a cause of 28000 deaths annually in the UK. Scientists in York have developed a range of new ‘green’ solvents to replace the traditional chemicals sourced from the petroleum industry. Well-designed green solvents such as 2,2,5,5-tetramethyloxolane are synthesised from sustainable feedstock and are less hazardous and harmful to health than their traditional equivalents, e.g. aromatics such as toluene

Traditional aromatic solvents are notoriously bad for air quality; their oxidation in air rapidly leading yielding large quantities of harmful formaldehyde, particulates and ozone

By contrast, little is known of the air quality impacts of new green solvents. The principle objectives of this project are therefore to determine gas-phase oxidation rates and degradation pathways for new green solvents, assess the functional and structural features responsible for this gas-phase reactivity and through this knowledge, improve new solvent design

Experimental Approach

you will use the following to determine atmospheric oxidation rates and degradation mechanisms:

1. laser generation and detection of free-radicals for direct, time-resolved kinetics of radical + solvent reactions;

2. atmospheric simulation chambers for product studies of solvent degradation via short scientific visits to European partner labs

3. computer simulations using Gaussian for bond enthalpies and the Master Chemical Mechanism for detailed atmospheric mechanism construction and impact assessment.

The Green Chemistry Principles in organic synthesis will be applied together with the following methodologies to develop the next generation of green solvents in response to results from this work: reaction optimisation (catalyst screening, production of heterogeneous catalysts, reaction conditions); high pressure, flow or microwave reactors; bulk synthesis (> 1 kg) for the most promising systems.


This project complements existing York efforts to develop detailed atmospheric oxidation mechanisms, understand indoor & outdoor air quality, and devise sustainable manufacturing strategies. You will aim to solve the big question – can new green solvents be inherently good for air quality? You will present these results to international conferences and in high-quality journals.


All research students follow our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills. All take the core training package which provides both a grounding in both research skills and transferable skills to enhance employability opportunities following graduation. You will join the large and dynamic teams at the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories and Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence. Supervision by experts in laser kinetics, atmospheric oxidation, and green chemistry will ensure appropriate support and guidance. Bespoke training provided by the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science will help you to develop transferable skills in data processing and programming. Project-specific training will be provided in: laser safety; use of class IV lasers; analytical tools (MCM, R-studio, modelling software); organic synthesis and high-pressure chemistry. You will work in the Alternative Solvents Technology Platform, taking new solvents and determining their fate in the environment, You will be able to link key functionalities in a solvent with their readiness to degrade in the atmosphere, which in turn can be used to help inform the development of future solvents. All Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills:

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor's name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2022. Induction activities may start a few days earlier.

To apply for this project, submit an online PhD in Chemistry application:

You should hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a related subject.  

Funding Notes

Fully funded for 3 years by the Department of Chemistry and covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,609 for 2021-22), (ii) tuition fees at the Home rate, (iii) funding for consumables. See guidance for further details:
Studentships are available to any student who is eligible to pay tuition fees at the home rate:
Not all projects will be funded; candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


Candidate selection process:
• You should hold or expect to receive at least an upper second class degree in chemistry or a chemical sciences related subject
• Applicants should submit a PhD application to the University of York by 28 February 2022
• Supervisors may contact candidates either by email, telephone or web-chat
• Supervisors can nominate up to 2 candidates to be interviewed for the project
• The interview panel will shortlist candidates for interview from all those nominated
• Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a panel interview on 30th or 31st March or 1stApril
• The awarding committee will award studentships following the panel interviews
• Candidates will be notified of the outcome of the panel’s decision by email

How good is research at University of York in Chemistry?

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

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