Upgrading biofuels from intermediate pyrolysis of food waste using steel slag-based catalysts

   Materials and Engineering Research Institute

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  Dr Hessam Jahangiri, Dr M Goel, Prof Martin Howarth  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Energy consumption and demand are at their peak more than ever before due to urbanisation, growing population, and industrial evolution. Using organic food waste as a renewable and clean energy source has been the subject of extensive research. Pyrolysis can convert solid food waste into solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels, which are termed as biofuels.

The pyrolytic conversion of organic waste to liquid drop-in hydrocarbon transport fuels is usually performed by fast pyrolysis. Unfortunately, fast bio-oil has undesirable fuel properties such as high acidity, high viscosity, poor stability, and low calorific value. There are also concerns raised over catalyst deactivation and poisoning. Hence, new and improved pyrolysis methods, conditions and sacrificial catalysts are needed to rise to the challenges associated with upgraded biofuel production, which is the aim of this project.

In this project, the compatibility and stability of steel slag with intermediate pyrolysis will be studied to show that steel slag has the potential as a low-cost sacrificial catalyst for upgrading biofuels. The present study will investigate the impact of introducing steel slag as an inexpensive sacrificial catalyst to solid food waste with different ratios for biofuel production via an intermediate pyrolysis unit. Furthermore, surface chemistry study of calcium-rich steel slag catalysts at different pyrolysis and reforming temperatures is required to understand the relationship between Brønsted/Lewis acid sites' character and intermediate pyrolysis selectivity/activity over steel slag catalysts.

Additionally, biochar from pyrolysis is emerging as a highly attractive product owing to its abundant benefits in energy generation, carbon sequestration, climate change mitigation, soil amendment, and wastewater treatment. Biochar has drawn considerable attention in wastewater treatment due to its outstanding adsorption capacities for adsorbing heavy metals and organic pollutants. This project proposes to magnetise biochar, producing magnetic biochar and addressing the bottlenecks surrounding large-scale applications of biochar. Magnetic biochar (MBC) is recently gaining attraction in wastewater treatment. MBC is synthesised by combining magnetic materials (such as Fe, γ-Fe2O3 and Fe3O4) and biochar using pyrolytic activation, chemical co-precipitation etc. The physical and chemical characteristics of adsorbents MBC determine the adsorption effectiveness. There is potential for suitable modification methods to improve its adsorption achievements, thus producing innovative adsorbents. 


Applicants should hold a Bachelor's/Master's degree in chemical/mechanical engineering, chemistry or a related subject.

Aptitude and skills:

  • Ability to conduct individual research work and to disseminate results;
  • Excellent English language communication skills to relay work in spoken and written media;
  • Ability to work effectively as a part of a project team;
  • Ability to contribute to and coordinate collaborative project reports and deliverables;
  • Enthusiasm and self-motivation - capable of pursuing programme objectives and solving problems on own initiative;
  • Organisation – able to plan and deliver work to meet required deadlines.


  • Experience in experimental rig design and development as well as Aspen Simulation;
  • Experience in heterogeneous catalysis research.

For further details on entry requirements, please click here.

How to apply

All applications must be submitted using the online application form. To apply, click here.

We strongly recommend you contact the lead academic, Dr Hessam Jahangiri, [Email Address Removed], to discuss your application.

Start date for studentship: October 2023

Interviews are scheduled for: TBC

For information on how to apply please visit https://www.shu.ac.uk/research/degrees

Funding Notes

The PhD studentship provides tuition fees at UK home fee rate and a maintenance bursary at the UK Research Councils' national minimum doctoral stipend rate (£18,622 for 2023/24). The scholarship is available for three and a half years.

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