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Sustainable production of ‘petrochemicals’ through the exploitation of coke in catalysis

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 29, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

This project addresses the challenges of producing the chemical products that society relies on in a more sustainable manner, and in reducing our reliance on rare metals the mining of which causes significant ecological and environmental damage. Heterogeneous catalysis plays a fundamental role in chemicals manufacturing. The deposition of carbon, or ‘coke, on the surface of catalysts is a well known deactivation mechanism. However, previous work in our group has shown that coke can actually promote reactions under the correct conditions. This can improve process sustainability through, e.g. reducing the need for metal catalysts, extending catalyst lifetime and/or improving selectivity.

You will investigate the role of coke in a number of processes in order to understand the structural and chemical properties that result in its activity. Two exemplar processes are (i) alkane dehydrogenation in fixed-bed reactors where coke is seen to be an effective catalyst; and (ii) liquid-phase hydrothermal carbonisation where char formed in situ may accelerate the chemical transformations. This is an experimental based project which will involve reaction testing and analysis, using techniques such as GCMS. It is well suited to applicants with a good knowledge of chemical engineering or chemistry.

The petrochemicals sector is globally significant employer. This project will provide the skills necessary to enter a range of roles in that sector, the chemical industry more widely or other roles related to energy and sustainability.

Subject-specific training will be provided on relevant techniques as well as a Doctoral development programme.

Funding Notes

Entry Requirements:
Good honours degree in chemistry, chemical engineering or a related subject.


The student will be working as part of a larger research group in a well-resourced lab dedicated to developing sustainable engineering solutions to global challenges. For further details please contact Dr. James McGregor directly via

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