This project will develop more efficient heterogeneous catalytic processes for the conversion of sustainable feedstocks to alleviate societal dependence on fossil resources. Specifically, the conversion of glycerol and of carbon dioxide into value-added products will be investigated via operando attenuated total reflectance (ATR) Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy.
Glycerol is a by-product of biodiesel synthesis and is forecast to be produced in quantities of ~4200 ML/annum by 2020. It therefore potentially provides a valuable resource as a feedstock for the chemical industry. Previous research in our lab has demonstrated the feasibility of synthesising glycerol carbonate via the direct carboxylation of glycerol with CO2 over solid metal oxide catalysts. Glycerol carbonate is a versatile product with applications in areas such as energy storage, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals etc. The glycerol carbonate synthesis reaction is a complex network of series and parallel reactions which require to be fully understood in order to optimise the catalyst and catalytic process.
Additionally, other research from our lab has shown the potential of producing higher hydrocarbons and oxygenates directly from CO2 and water under hydrothermal conditions. This makes direct use of carbon dioxide, a well-established greenhouse gas. Again, this is part of a complex reaction network which requires to be fully understood.
In order to deconvolve these reaction networks, this project will employ an operando gas-liquid-solid stirred tank reactor employing ATR-FTIR spectroscopy. This allows for investigation of complex processes at high temperatures and pressures. Two-dimensional correlation spectroscopy analytical methods will be developed in order to deconvolve the reaction networks, and hence facilitate the design of new catalysts and catalytic processes for the conversion of sustainable feedstocks.
Students will fully engage in the Faculty Doctoral Development Programme. In addition, subject-specific training in industrial-standard analytic techniques will be provided.
Graduates in his field are highly employable. Catalysis underpins the UK and global manufacturing sectors with over 90% of products employing a catalyst at some stage in their manufacture. Opportunities therefore exist to progress into companies at all levels, from large multi-nationals to SMEs; or into academia.
The student will be an integrated part of large research group benefitting from many shared resources.
This project is suitable for a graduate in chemical engineering, chemistry or a closely related subject holding a 2.1 (or equivalent) degree. Applicants should meet the universities requirements for English language proficiency.