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Understanding Reaction Mechanisms, Kinetics and Structural Evolution in Low-Carbon Cements


Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering

Sheffield United Kingdom Chemical Engineering Civil Engineering Environmental Engineering Geochemistry Inorganic Chemistry Materials Science

About the Project

Cement is the ‘glue’ in concrete, and provides the foundation on which modern civilisation is built. But this comes at a huge environmental cost - nearly half of all materials extracted from the Earth annually are used in concrete, and cement production alone accounts for 8% of human-caused CO2 emissions.

By replacing traditional Portland cement with low-CO2, alkali-activated or alkaline earth-activated cement (AAC/AEAC), we can reduce these CO2 emissions by more than 80%. However, uptake of these low-carbon cements within industry has been slow, due to difficulty controlling the reaction, setting and hardening processes, which in turn control the physical properties and performance of the cement.

There is currently limited understanding of the fundamental interactions that control reaction, setting and hardening of these cements. This is largely due to the wide variation in chemical and physical characteristics of the raw materials used to make these cements, which significantly affect the processes controlling physical property development. We aim to overcome this technological hurdle, and provide the fundamental understanding that will drive widespread use of these low-carbon cements within industry.

This project aims to reveal the composition-structure-property relationships, reaction mechanisms and kinetics in these low-carbon cements produced from industrial wastes and low-carbon activators, using an array of state-of-the-art characterisation approaches.

Specifically, the project aims to reveal how variation in the characteristics of the raw materials, and the reaction and usage conditions, affect: 1) Reaction mechanisms and kinetics, 2) Composition-structure-property relationships and 3) Evolution of cement structure and phase assemblage. This will enable optimisation of cement formulations for enhanced sustainability, performance and durability, and is crucial to drive widespread implementation in industry. This will help drive a circular economy, reduce CO2 emissions, and give humanity the best possible chance to mitigate climate change.

Based in the Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering, the successful candidate will be joining a team of multidisciplinary researchers at The University of Sheffield to develop research and innovation for decarbonisation. The successful candidate will join the Sustainable Materials at Sheffield and Cements@Sheffield research teams, and benefit from being a member of a friendly and collegial group with world-leading expertise and facilities.

The Sustainable Materials at Sheffield group (in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering) and the Cements@Sheffield group (in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering) are world-leading research teams, located in highly-rated and very successful departments, building from over 100 years of history in cements research at Sheffield. We investigate interesting and important cements and related materials for applications in infrastructure and nuclear sectors, publish our work in the leading journals and conferences in the field, and take great pride in the fact that alumni have gone on to the highest levels of success in both academia and industry.

Read our recent article published in The Conversation: Sustainable cement: the simple switch that could massively cut global carbon emissions

Both the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering rank among the top in the UK, and have among the highest levels of research income.

Start Date of Studentship: 27th September 2021

Please see this web link for information on how to apply and access the Postgraduate Online Application Form: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/phd/apply


Funding Notes

This is a funded EPSRC DTP PhD studentship. The funding covers the cost of tuition fees and provides an annual tax-free stipend for 3.5 years at the standard UK research rate (£15,609 in 2021/22). The studentship is available for a student from the United Kingdom or from the European Union with 3 years residency in the UK.

References

Applicants should have a first or upper second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline (Chemical/Materials/Environmental/Civil Engineering, Materials/Inorganic Chemistry or Mineralogy/Geochemistry). A strong undergraduate background in chemical/materials engineering, with an interest in driving sustainability is desired. The applicant should have been educated to degree level through the medium of English or have IELTS as detailed below. If English is not your first language then you must have an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) average of 6.5 or above with at least 6.0 in each component, or equivalent. Please see this web link for further information: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/phd/apply/english-language

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