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Surface modification of natural fibres with plastic-eating enzymes for enhanced fibre-matrix interfaces of natural fibre reinforced composites

   School of Mechanical and Design Engineering

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3-year full-time or 6-year part time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the School of Mechanical and Design Engineering and will be supervised by Dr Abu Saifullah, Professor Hom Dhakal and Professor Andy Pickford

The work on this project could involve:

  • Optimising the process parameters of natural fibre surface modification with the enzymes and full-scale analysis of fibre surface properties- density, roughness, morphological properties, wetting properties, single fibre bonding and strength tests.
  • Investigating the manufacturing of composites with modified natural fibres using bio-polymer and general polymer matrix and characterise modified fibre-matrix interface, water absorption and ultimate mechanical properties.
  • Life cycle analysis (LCA) of the enzyme surface modified NFC

Project description

In the current global sustainable development context, manufacturers and consumers are shifting towards the trend of producing and using environment friendly products. Likewise, for fibre reinforced composites, natural fibres are becoming a potential alternative to replace synthetic fibres due to their light-weight, low cost, strength and bio-degradability. In lightweight load-bearing structural/semi-structural automotive, marine, construction, packaging applications, a long-term durability with the excellent mechanical properties are needed for the natural fibre reinforced composites (NFCs). For this, a strong interfacial bonding is required at fibres and polymer matrix interfaces. Natural fibres are hydrophilic and hence, have the limitations to create the strong adhesion with hydrophobic polymer matrix. This is one of the major concerns for NFCs and needed to be addressed so that they can be used confidently in load-bearing applications. Various chemical treatments have been tried to modify the fibre surfaces. But, due to the use of hazardous chemicals, high cost, shrinkage etc., these chemical treatments should be avoided. Enzymatic fibre surface modification, is a viable green alternative, wherein, a strong adhesion between fibre-matrix interfaces can be created. Therefore, in this project, a novel enzymatic surface modification based on the newly invented plastic-eating enzyme will be investigated for the first time to modify the natural fibres surfaces for enhancing the fibres-polymer matrix interfaces to improve the mechanical properties of composites.

This project will be a collaborative project between Advanced Polymers and Composites (APC) research group and Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at UoP. APC group has a track record of developing NFCs for various applications, while, CEI has been featured nationally/globally for their recent innovation of plastic-eating enzymes. The successful candidate will be working independently and also in multidisciplinary collaborative research teams. This project will be helpful for the successful candidate to pursue future career in academia or any relevant industries.

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements

You should have a background in mechanical engineering, material science or any relevant engineering discipline and should have a solid understanding and experience on natural fibre reinforced composites, manufacturing and characterisation, polymer materials, enzymes etc. Applicants are also expected to have effective written, verbal communication, project and time management skills.

How to Apply

We encourage you to contact Dr Abu Saifullah () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code below.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Mechanical and Design Engineering PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

When applying please quote project code:SMDE6121023

Funding Notes

Self-funded PhD students only.
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK students only).


[1] Hasan, M., Saifullah, A., Dhakal, H. N., Khandaker, S., & Sarker, F. (2021). Improved mechanical performances of unidirectional jute fibre composites developed with new fibre architectures. RSC Advances, 11(37), 23010-23022.
[2] Barouni, A., Lupton, C., Jiang, C., Saifullah, A., Giasin, K., Zhang, Z., & Dhakal, H. N. (2022). Investigation into the fatigue properties of flax fibre epoxy composites and hybrid composites based on flax and glass fibres. Composite Structures, 281, 115046.
[3] Kalia, S., Thakur, K., Celli, A., Kiechel, M. A., & Schauer, C. L. (2013). Surface modification of plant fibers using environment friendly methods for their application in polymer composites, textile industry and antimicrobial activities: A review. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, 1(3), 97-112.
[4] Peças, P., Carvalho, H., Salman, H., & Leite, M. (2018). Natural fibre composites and their applications: a review. Journal of Composites Science, 2(4), 66.

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