This is an industrially-funded 3.5 year PhD studentship in green chemistry and physical chemistry, focusing on the fundamental science underpinning the use of advanced, environmentally friendly solvents as a means to recycle waste plastic.
Global plastics consumption has reached 100kg per annum for every human being on the planet and continues to grow. This huge demand is placing unsustainable pressure on the world’s already overexploited oil reserves, whilst the rising consumption of plastics is also creating an increasingly significant waste problem. For example, despite numerous private and public initiatives, only 20% of the polystyrene disposed of every year in the UK is currently recycled; the rest is consigned to landfill, rapidly filling up our remaining rubbish tips and persisting as a pollutant in the environment for hundreds of years into the future. For other plastics and in many other countries, the problem is even worse.
A major obstacle to the cost-effective recycling of plastics such as polystyrene is the purity of the recycled product. Conventional recycling produces a low-purity material of relatively little value; however, if recycled plastic could be produced at the same level of purity as freshly-manufactured polymer, the economic incentives for recycling would be dramatically increased. One way to achieve this is through the use of advanced solvents, such as protic ionic liquids (PILs), which can specifically “target” individual polymers and selectively remove them from a mixed waste stream in very high purity.
This project aims to build on existing knowledge in this field by developing a fundamental understanding of the ways in which PILs interact with polymers and other solutes at the molecular level. It will involve both theoretical and experimental aspects, including the use of spectroscopy and calorimetry to investigate the properties of PILs and PIL/polymer solutions, the rationalization of the observed results from a theoretical context (including molecular and statistical thermodynamics) and the development of a predictive methodology for matching individual solvents to specific polymer dissolution and separation challenges.
This groundbreaking research will aid the industrial sponsor in developing sophisticated solvent-based recycling processes and has the potential to generate highly publishable results. Based on site at TWI Ltd. in Cambridge, this project offers a unique opportunity to work at the academic/industrial interface on a project of real and direct commercial applicability, helping to solve a major environmental problem.
The start date for this project isany time up to 1 October 2013. There is flexibility to start earlier. Please contact Dr Seishi Shimizu ([email protected]
) for further details.