Imperial College London

Dr Qilei Song

Faculty of EngineeringDepartment of Chemical Engineering




+44 (0)20 7594 Website




ACEX 409AACE ExtensionSouth Kensington Campus






Dr Qilei Song is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London. The Song Research Group has research interests in design, synthesis, and characterisation of functional polymers and nanoporous materials for applications in membrane separations, adsorption, catalysis, and energy conversion and storage.

Dr Qilei Song received Bachelor's and Master's degrees in School of Energy and Environment at Southeast University (Nanjing, China) in 2006 and 2009, respectively. In October 2009, he joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at University of Cambridge working on nanostructured mixed metal oxides for combustion and low carbon energy processes (Energy Environ. Sci. 2013). In October 2010, he moved to the Cavendish Laboratory to pursue a PhD in Polymer and Soft Matter Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory. He passed the PhD viva in February 2014, and continued as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Cavendish Laboratory. During his PhD and Postdoc research, he worked on several types of cutting-edge microporous materials and their applications in membranes for gas separations, notably metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and polymer/MOF composites (Energy Environ. Sci. 2012), polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) (Nature Communications, 2013;  Nature Communications, 2014Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 2016), and novel porous molecular materials known as porous organic cages (Advanced Materials, 2016). He joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College in November 2014 to pursue an independent research programme. He worked closely with Prof. A. G. Livingston on microporous polymer nanofilm membranes (Nature Materials, 2016). In August 2016, he was appointed a Lecturer in Chemical Engineering in the Department. 

Sustainable energy and clean environment are key global challenges in the 21st century. Dr Song's research interests are focused on design and synthesis of porous materials for energy and environmental applications, in applications such as membranes for molecular separations, heterogeneous catalysis, combustion, and energy conversion and storage. broad scientific approach is used aiming to understand their physical and chemical properties that dominate the processes of molecular and ionic transport, adsorption/absorption and diffusion, and chemical reactions. 

Welcome to the group website:


1. Fully-funded PhD studentship

Two PhD studentships are available for immediate entry. One PhD position is fully funded for UK/EU candidates,  covering tuition fees and providing a stipend at the standard RCUK rate (it was £16,057 for 2016-17 p.a., with London weighting).

Another PhD scholarship is funded by the Departmental PhD Scholarship programme, with tuition fees and living stipend fully covered. It is open to all applicants including overseas students.

Full PhD scholarship funded by the Department of Chemical Engineering (Applications for this scholarship scheme will be considered throughout the academic year).

A number of projects are available. Example projects include design and synthesis of porous materials for gas and liquid separations, water purification and desalination, and advanced battery materials for energy conversion and storage.

Applications from students interested in materials chemistry, polymer chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, energy engineering, and energy conversion and storage are particularly encouraged.

Please send your CV and a cover letter as attachments to Dr Qilei Song ( Your CV should include the detailed academic performance (including grades and marks) and names and contact details of two academic referees. Your cover letter should highlight your relevant experience and interests. Candidates will be considered until the position is filled. 

2. Other PhD studentships

Imperial College PhD Scholarship (Applications for this scholarship scheme will be considered throughout the academic year). 

Imperial College and China Scholarship Council PhD Programme

UK-China PhD Placement Programme (Chinese applicants should apply via the China Scholarship Council). 

You are also encouraged to look for other funding sources. 


  • 8/2016 -    Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College
  • 2014-2016  Junior Research Fellow, Imperial College London
  • 2014-        Academic visitor, University of Cambridge
  • 2013-2014  Research Associate, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge
  • 2010-2014  PhD in Physics, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge
  • 2009-2010  CPGS in Chemical Engineering, University of Cambridge, UK
  • 2006-2009  M.Eng in Energy & Environmental Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China
  • 2002-2006  B.Eng in Energy Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China

Recent Research Highlights

A full list of publications can be found at Google Scholar or ResearcherID.

10. Shan Jiang, Qilei Song,* Alan Massey, Samantha Y. Chong, Linjiang Chen, Shijing Sun, Tom Hasell,* Rasmita Raval, Easan Sivaniah, Anthony K. Cheetham, Andrew I. Cooper*, Oriented 2D Porous Organic Cage Crystals, Angew. chem. Int. Ed., accepted, 2017. Doi:

2D cage crystal

9. Ghalei B, Sakurai K, Kinoshita Y, Wakimoto K, Pournaghshband Isfahani A, Song Q, Doitomi K, Furukawa S, Hirao H, Kusuda H, Kitagawa S, Sivaniah E, Enhanced selectivity in mixed matrix membranes for CO2 capture through efficient dispersion of amine-functionalised MOF nanoparticles, Nature Energy. 2017, Advance Online publication. Doi:

Mixed matrix membrane

8. Maria Jimenez-Solomon+Qilei Song+, Kim Jelfs, Marta Munoz-Ibanez, Andrew Livingston*. Polymer nanofilms with enhanced microporosity by interfacial polymerisationNature Materials. 2016. Doi:10.1038/nmat4638. (+Contributed equally).


Image credit to Ella Marushchenko (Table of Contents, Nature Materials).

7. Q. Song, S. Jiang, T. Hasell, M. Liu, S. Sun, A.K. Cheetham, E. Sivaniah, A.I. Cooper. 2015, Advanced Materials, accepted. DOI:10.1002/adma.201505688

In collaboration with the group of Prof. Andy Cooper at Liverpool, we fabricate Porous Organic Cages (POCs), a new class of microporous molecular materials, to thin films and selective molecular sieving membranes.

Porous Organic Cage Thin Films and Membranes

6. Q. Song, S. Cao, R.H. Pritchard, H. Qiblawey, E.M. Terentjev, A.K. Cheetham, and E. Sivaniah. Nanofiller-tuned microporous polymer molecular sieves for energy and environmental processes. Journal of Materials Chemistry A. 2015. DOI: 10.1039/C5TA09060A

PIM-1 nanocomposites

Microporous polymers with molecular sieving properties are promising for a wide range of applications in gas storage, molecular separations, catalysis, and energy storage. In this study, we report highly permeable and selective molecular sieves fabricated from crosslinked polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) incorporated with highly dispersed nanoscale fillers, including nonporous inorganic nanoparticles and microporous metal-organic framework (MOF) nanocrystals. We demonstrate that the combination of covalent crosslinking of microporous polymers via controlled thermal oxidation and tunable incorporation of nanofillers results in high performance membranes with substantially enhanced permeability and molecular sieving selectivity, as demonstrated in separation of gas molecules, for example, air separation (O2/N2), CO2 separation from natural gas (CH4) or flue gas (CO2/N2), and H2 separation from N2 and CH4. After ageing over two years, these nanofiller-tuned molecular sieves became more selective and less permeable but maintained permeability levels that are still two orders of magnitude higher than conventional gas separation membranes.

5. D.H.N. Perera, Q. Song, H. Qiblawey, E. Sivaniah. Regulating the aqueous phase monomer balance for flux improvement in polyamide thin film composite membranes. Journal of Membrane Science. 2015. Link to the paper

Polyamide thin film composite (PA-TFC) membranes are synthesized from interfacial polymerization via the established polymer chemistry (a) as shown in the figure below. The SEM iamges show the morphology of surface (b) and cross-section (c) of ultrathin polyamide thin films supported on polysulfone membranes. 

Polyamide membrane for desalination4. Q. Song, S. Cao, R.H. Pritchard, B. Ghalei, S.A. Al-Muhtaseb, E.M. Terentjev, A.K. Cheetham, and E. Sivaniah. Controlled thermal oxidative crosslinking of polymers of intrinsic microporosity towards tunable molecular sieve membranes. Nature Communications, 2014, 5, 4813. Download PDFLink to full text,  Press (PDFScienceDaily,News in China Media BusinessWeekly (Note: these media coverages are mainly on CO2 capture applications, but actually these novel microporous polymers have great potential for more broad applications beyond gas separations, and our understandings of the materials science are more important.)

Polymer molecular sieves

Microporous materials with well-defined micropore (pore dimensions below 2 nm) structure are attractive next-generation materials for gas sorption, storage, catalysis and molecular level separations. Polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) contain interconnected regions of micropores with high gas permeability but with a level of heterogeneity that compromises their molecular selectivity. Here we report controllable thermal oxidative crosslinking of PIMs by heat treatment in the presence of trace amounts of oxygen. The resulting covalently crosslinked networks are thermally and chemically stable, mechanically flexible and have remarkable selectivity at permeability that is three orders of magnitude higher than commercial polymeric membranes. This study demonstrates that controlled thermochemical reactions can delicately tune the topological structure of channels and pores within microporous polymers and their molecular sieving properties.

A patent (inventors: Q. Song and E. Sivaniah) has been filed based on the work reported in this paper.

3. Q. Song, S. Cao, P. Zavala-Rivera, L.P. Lu, W. Li, Y. Ji, S.A. Al-Muhtaseb, A.K. Cheetham and E. Sivaniah. Photo-oxidative enhancement of polymeric molecular sieve membranes. Nature Communications, 2013, 4, 1918. Download the PDFLink to the paperPress release by University of Cambridge ScienceDaily eurekalert

We report photo-oxidation of membranes made of a polymer of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) and demonstrate how UV light can degrade the polymer while enhancing the selectivity in gas separation. The ultraviolet light field, localized to a near-surface domain, induces reactive ozone that collapses the microporous polymer framework. The rapid, near-surface densification results in asymmetric membranes with a superior selectivity in gas separation while maintaining and apparent permeability that is two orders of magnitude greater than commercially available polymeric membranes. In fact, the gas transport properties need to be considered carefully because the membranes now become heterogeneous composite films. The oxidative chain scission induced by ultraviolet irradiation also indicates the potential application of the polymer in photolithography technology. The key scientific understanding is the oxidative degradation of PIM-1 polymer under irradiation of shortwave-length UV light, which has broad implications on the applications of porous PIM-1 polymers. A further finding not reported in the paper is that similar oxidative degradation can occur directly by ozone treatment, which induces densification at the surface, depending on the diffusion of ozone in the polymer network.  These work were covered in my PhD thesis 'Polymer molecular sieve membranes'.


Story behind the paper....

The photoluminescence of PIM-1 polymer is really cool! The PIM-1 polymer can be excited by UV light and visible light, emitting green light.

Green light from PIM-1 polymer solution excited by visible light

When we synthesized the PIM-1 polymer in early 2011, we were initially interested in the optoelectronic properties. In collaboration with the optoelectronics group in the Cavendish lab (Prof. R.H. Friend group), we fabricated polymer light emittting diodes (PLED) devices and confirmed the electroluminenscence of PIM-1 polymer. However, the performance is not that great, and the science behind this phenomenon were not well understood. It was later known that the inventors of PIM-1 polymer did similar research on PLED when they invented the materials 10 years ago! While I was working on polymer films and membranes, we realized that there are a lot of literature on photoprocessing of polymers in polymer science field and membrane field as well. This leads to our work on understanding the science behind the phenomenon and how the UV/ozone treatment of PIM-1 polymer changed the physical properties, including the gas transport properties. We reported the story in a 3-page conference paper submitted to Euromembrane conference in March 2012, but it took us sometime to understand the mechanism well, therefore the publication of our paper were delayed until 2013. In the end, we have a better understanding of the materials. 

Photoluminescence of PIM-1 polymer solution and films excited by UV light (254 nm) in air

2. Q. Song, S. K. Nataraj, M. V. Roussenova, J. C. Tan, D. J. Hughes, W. Li, P. Bourgoin, M. A. Alam, A. K. Cheetham, S. A. Al-Muhtaseb and E. Sivaniah. Zeolitic imidazolate framework (ZIF-8) based polymer nanocomposite membranes for gas separation, Energy & Environmental Science, 2012, 5, 8359-8369. Download a PDF copyLink

As-synthesised zeolitic imidazolate framework (ZIF-8) nanocrystals were dispersed into a polymer matrix forming nanocomposite membranes with enhanced gas permeability.


1. Q. Song, W. Liu, C. D. Bohn, R. N. Harper, E. Sivaniah, S. A. Scott and J. S. Dennis. A high performance oxygen storage material for chemical looping processes with CO2 capture, Energy & Environmental Science, 2013, 6, 288-298. Download a PDF copy. Link

We report a method for preparing of oxygen storage materials from layered double hydroxides(LDHs) precursors and demonstrate their applications in the CLC process. The LDHs precursor enables homogeneous mixing of elements at the molecular level, giving a high degree of dispersion and high-loading of active metal oxide in the support after calcination. Using a Cu-Al LDH precursor as a prototype, we demonstrate that rational design of oxygen storage materials by material chemistry significantly improved the reactivity and stability in the high temperature redox cycles. A representative nanostructured Cu-based oxygen storage material derived from the LDH precursor showed stable gaseous O2release capacity (5 wt%), stable oxygen storage capacity (12 wt%), and stable reaction rates during reversible phase changes between CuO-Cu2O-Cu at high temperatures. We anticipate that the strategy can be extended to manufacture a variety of metal oxidecomposites for applications in novel high temperature looping cycles for clean energy production.


Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Jimenez-Solomon M, Song Q, Jelfs K, et al., 2016, Polymer nanofilms with enhanced microporosity by interfacial polymerisation, Nature Materials, Vol:15, ISSN:1476-4660, Pages:760-767

Song Q, Jiang S, Hasell T, et al., 2016, Porous Organic Cage Thin Films and Molecular-Sieving Membranes, Advanced Materials, Vol:28, ISSN:1521-4095, Pages:2629-2637

Song Q, Cao S, Pritchard RH, et al., 2016, Nanofiller-tuned microporous polymer molecular sieves for energy and environmental processes, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, Vol:4, ISSN:2050-7496, Pages:270-279

Perera DHN, Song Q, Qiblawey H, et al., 2015, Regulating the aqueous phase monomer balance for flux improvement in polyamide thin film composite membranes, Journal of Membrane Science, Vol:487, ISSN:1873-3123

Song Q, Cao S, Pritchard RH, et al., 2014, Controlled thermal oxidative crosslinking of polymers of intrinsic microporosity towards tunable molecular sieve membranes, Nature Communications, Vol:5, ISSN:2041-1723

Song Q, Cao S, Zavala-Rivera P, et al., 2013, Photo-oxidative enhancement of polymeric molecular sieve membranes, Nature Communications, Vol:4, ISSN:2041-1723

Song Q, Liu W, Bohn CD, et al., 2013, A high performance oxygen storage material for chemical looping processes with CO2 capture, Energy & Environmental Science, Vol:6, ISSN:1754-5692, Pages:288-298

Song Q, Nataraj SK, Roussenova MV, et al., 2012, Zeolitic imidazolate framework (ZIF-8) based polymer nanocomposite membranes for gas separation, Energy & Environmental Science, Vol:5, ISSN:1754-5692, Pages:8359-8369


Song Q, 2015, Crosslinked polymer, method for producing the same, molecular sieve composition and material separation membranes

More Publications