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TiO2 Functionalised Novel Carbon-supported Photocatalyst for Microplastic Degradation

Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

About the Project

Functionalised graphene and nanotubes are high-performance materials for wide-ranging applications. However, they are expensive to produce and require environmentally problematic syntheses conditions including toxic chemicals for their production raising questions about their sustainable credentials. One of the key objectives of this PhD project is to address the societal need for sustainable advanced materials of the future. This project aims to produce low-cost alternative of functionalised graphene for photocatalytic degradation of microplastics, which is a persistent global problem. This will be achieved by designing a novel TiO2 functionalised carbon supported photocatalyst, as TiO2 is known to photodegrade microplastics.

Hydrothermal carbon (HTC), produced under moderate temperature-pressure conditions, embodies all the characteristics of a sustainable functional carbon. Using hydrothermal carbonisation, it is possible to tailor the final structure of the material with nanomaterials to produce carbon nanocomposites and hybrids. As a result, the synthesis of nanomaterial-functionalised HTC from low-cost precursor, such as agricultural waste residues, has emerged as a promising new area of research. Doping HTC with heteroatoms (e.g. N and S) has been shown to improve electrical conductivity, material stability, and catalytic performance owing to an increase in the number of active sites. For applications in heterogenous catalysis, doped HTC can be hybridised with a range of nanomaterials. A calcination step, akin to pyrolysis, is a highly effective route for nanomaterial functionalisation of heteroatom-doped HTC because pyrolytic carbons are turbostratic in nature rendering them a good substrate for functionalisation with nanomaterials.

This PhD project will entail 1) synthesis of nitrogen doped HTC from spent agricultural residues (e.g., rice husk, spent coffee beans), 2) functionalising those with TiO2 via pyrolysis, and 3) ascertaining the efficacy of the degradation of microplastics (HDPE and LDPE) under different physicochemical (e.g., temperature, pH, light) conditions. A suite of spectroscopy and imaging techniques, including XRD, XPS, FTIR, HRTEM, STXM and in-situ/operando XAS will be used to ascertain the distribution, chemical speciation, and functionalisation of TiO2 as well as kinetics and extent of microplastic degradation.

Funding Notes

Please note that UK Fees and maintenance will be awarded as part of the Bragg Centre DTP Competition.

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