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Transforming Cellulose Processing

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Mike Ries
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Cellulose is the world’s most abundant naturally occurring organic polymer.
Each year the amount of cellulose produced by Nature outweighs, by factors of thousands, all the combined man-made oil based polymers. It is an almost inexhaustible source of raw material for the ever-increasing need for biocompatible, biodegradable, environmentally friendly products and shows great promise for replacing conventional petroleum-based plastics.
Using polysaccharides, such as cellulose, brings valuable advantages: use of the largest “chemical reactor”, Nature itself; decrease of fossil oil dependence; reduction of CO2 emissions; development of the European forest and wood processing enterprises; efficient non-food use of agricultural products; production of biodegradable, allergy-free and recyclable materials. All this makes cellulose a truly sustainable material.
Processing of cellulose is more than one hundred years old and it is either highly polluting (Viscose process) or energy consuming (Lyocell process). A typical example is the production of fibres and sponges made from cellulose extracted from wood by the widely used Viscose method. The initial material is natural and the final product is pure cellulose, but the process itself is possibly one of the most polluting industrial chemical engineering methods in use world-wide.
Ionic liquids (ILs) are salts with melting points at ambient temperatures. Their low volatility, ease of handling and high dissolving power means that they are being utilized in the green chemistry sector to replace conventional volatile solvents. Recently imidazolium-based ILs have been found to be direct solvents for cellulose and are therefore very promising for making cellulose processing much greener. In addition, various other polymers can be dissolved in ILs and mixing them with cellulose may open ways to creating new materials with novel properties.
At present there is a very low level of general understanding of cellulose-ionic liquid solution properties and this is delaying the use of ILs in industrial processing. A key problem for processing is that ILs are too expensive and too viscous; however both these can be solved by using viscosity reducing co-solvents that are far less costly than ILs. (A co-solvent is a chemical that can be added to the cellulose solution to improve its processability.)
With today’s need for “greener” materials and more sustainable processing routes; new, innovative process strategies are urgently needed.
This project will involve the Centre for Materials Forming (CEMEF), France, a world-known, centre of excellence for cellulose studies as well as a European leader in the field of material processing.
This is an excellent opportunity for high impact, UK leading, research.
This project will capitalize on a SRIF funded NMR machine (with solid-state, imaging and rheology it is one of only a handful in the world with such features).
This PhD is an excellent opportunity to work in an international multi-disciplinary collaborative group applying physics, imaging and polymer science to an industrially relevant problem. The student will learn about Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), the underlying physics of MRI, and how the properties of cellulose depend on the kinetics of its regeneration process.

Funding Notes

How good is research at University of Leeds in Physics?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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