Synthesis of porous carbons with controlled microstructure
Porous carbons are essential for a wide range of applications such as batteries, supercapacitors, fuel cells and water treatment. For many of these applications, the exact structure of the carbon is critical to the performance and there are considerable efforts across the world to produce carbons with tailored structure and porosity. One route that is generating a lot of interest is catalytic graphitization, where organic precursors (small molecules, polymers or biomass) are heated with metal salts (e.g. iron nitrate) in an inert atmosphere. The metal catalyzes the formation of graphitic nanostructures, resulting in porous carbons that have a mesoporous structure, high electronic conductivity and high electrocatalytic activity in processes such as the Oxygen Reduction Reaction.
One challenge with carbons from catalytic graphitization is a lack of understanding of how they are formed and of how their structure influences the electrocatalytic activity. Reports in the literature use diverse organic and metal precursors and a wide range of pyrolysis conditions, meaning there is no consensus on what makes a good catalyst. For these materials to be applied on a large scale in ‘real-world’ applications, it is essential to understand how the structure affects the electrocatalytic properties and (more importantly) how the choice of precursors and conditions direct the bulk and microscopic structure of the carbon.
This PhD project, joint between the University of Birmingham and Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM), will synthesize a wide range of porous carbons from biomass and biopolymer precursors. We will examine the effect of both precursors and synthesis conditions on the structure and properties of the resulting porous graphitic carbons. Critically, we will use new SAXS/USAXS technology and analysis methods developed by Brian Pauw at BAM to determine how the size distribution of the metal catalyst directs the structure of the resulting porous carbon during the catalytic graphitization step. The structure will be correlated to the electrocatalytic properties, offering the first systematic study of structure-property relationships in porous carbons and paving the way for the broad use of these materials in fuel cells.
Please contact Zoe Schnepp ([Email Address Removed]) to discuss.
The funding for this studentship is to be confirmed and we are hopeful that it will be funded (the decision should be made in March 2020. It would be a joint studentship between the University of Birmingham and BAM and would involve ~50% of the time in each institution. No knowledge of German is needed for the working environment in Berlin.
A masters-level degree in chemistry or a similar subject is required with a high 2.1 classification (or equivalent).
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FTE Category A staff submitted: 28.00
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