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Sustainable CO2 utilization as a reagent for commodity chemicals (funded by BASF)


   Department of Chemistry

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The most elegant way of disposing of CO2 is to utilize it for the production of valuable chemicals. Most of the chemicals we use are carbon-based. In order to make such a process efficient, economically attractive, and sustainable with respect to energy consumption, it makes sense to consider materials that have a similar oxidation state as CO2, e.g. carboxylic acids. Moreover, in order to capture CO2 efficiently, it is useful to consider flue gas and process the captured CO2 directly next to it. Consequently, the other reagents must be transported to the point of CO2 capture and therefore reagents of low molar mass and fair transportability would be best suited. Ideally the stoichiometry of the reaction would be in favour of using as much CO2 as possible. We will therefore consider di-acids that are used in commodity chemicals such as polyamides and polyesters, in particular p-terephthalic acid and adipic acid.

The synthesis of these diacids, however, suffers from the inertness of CO2 and – considering the synthesis of terephthalic acid – the lack of reactivity of benzene. Moreover, in both cases the selectivity needs to be correct: if adding two equivalents of CO2 to a C4 reagent it must yield regioselectively the 1,6-dicarboxylic acid (adipic acid), in case of p-terephthalic acid the addition of two equivalents of CO2 must be in the para position of the aromatic ring.

This project will require a good understanding of synthetic chemistry, catalysis and photochemistry and will provide training in chemical engineering with respect to handling bi-phasic mixtures and pressurized continuously operated setups. Moreover, the project will consider the specifics of photo-redox-chemistry in the framework of an interdisciplinary and holistic cluster of six BASF-funded students on photochemistry.

Applications are invited for the above project, and the successful applicant will undertake the EPSRC CDT (rEaCt) programme, as part of Cohort 4 (Intake 2022).

Please note that the BASF studentship projects follow the same programme as the normal CDT studentships. The difference is that project funding comes from BASF and not EPSRC.

The project is one of a number of BASF funded projects in the area of photochemistry within the CDT, which, in turn, forms part of a wider suite of activities that BASF is supporting within the CDT, all of which follow the principles detailed below.

Objective:  BASF, the world’s leading chemical company, wishes to explore the application of flow chemistry in its R&D workflow for the synthesis of novel agrochemicals, and commodities. In this project, it will assemble a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers to explore the value of synergies between a variety of cutting-edge technologies, to develop more effective and efficient chemical production processes.

Setup:  This project will bring together a group of highly motivated graduate students to work on two representative challenges from industrial process development, where photochemistry in combination with flow chemistry methodologies will be integrated holistically with in-line screening and analytics, and chemical process engineering complemented by machine learning and modelling. The members of this interdisciplinary project team will be exposed to a broad range of competencies and interact closely with each other in working on a disruptive change of the R&D workflow in a large chemical enterprise. 

Training:  Industrial R&D scientists based at BASF’s site in Ludwigshafen, the largest chemical “Verbund”site in Europe, will be closely involved in the programme, combining a real-world industrial experience with cutting-edge academic research. Each of the students will be advised by an internationally renowned professor and a BASF scientist and will be part of a centre for doctoral training, bringing together fellow graduate students in closely related fields of research and building a deep understanding of the area of specialization. 

This project forms part of a wider suite of activities that BASF is supporting within the CDT. The successful candidate will be able to interact with, and leverage the benefits of, this wider activity. There will be opportunities for placement(s) (total of up to one year duration) within the BASF organisation during the studentship period.

Applicant Requirements

Applicants should hold or expect to obtain a first or upper-second class honours degree or equivalent in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, or a related field. A Master’s degree in one of the above fields is an essential requirement. Imperial College PhD entry requirements must be met.

Click here for more information on the application process for prospective students.

To apply, please email the EPSRC CDT with the following documents in PDF format.

  • An up to date CV
  • A copy of all transcripts
  • A cover letter (please indicate here if you have any additional information you'd like the panel to take into consideration)
  • Full contact details of two referees
  • List of up to three projects of interest from the projects currently available

For further information please contact the CDT Programme Manager, Jinata Subba ().


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