The Faculty of Engineering has awarded 10 PhD studentships as part of its transition to a sustainable zero-pollution economy strategy. Funding for the studentships comes from the EPSRC DTP, industry partners and departments. The students start their PhDs in October 2019 and are all aligned with the NERC-funded Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP run by the Grantham Institute. See below for further details of who they are working with and the research they will carry out.

Albert Fabregas-Flavia

Research Project: Building tools and technologies for self-regulated nitrogen fixation in plant-associated bacteria
Supervisor: Professor Guy-Bart Stan, Department of Bioengineering

Engineering plant-associated bacteria to deliver nitrogen to crops has recently been proposed as an eco-friendly alternative to reduce N fertiliser inputs in agriculture. However, this poses several unique engineering challenges, a major one being that engineered plant-associated bacteria are likely to encounter severe fitness penalties in the soil-plant environment that can compromise their persistence and function. In this PhD project we will tackle the competitive disadvantage of engineered plant-associated bacteria from a combined control engineering and synthetic biology perspective, with the ultimate goal of developing more effective nitrogen biofertilisers for sustainable agriculture.

Ethan Errington

Research Project: Engineered Lyophilic Nanoparticles for Fat Recovery from Waste Streams
Supervisors: Professor Jerry Heng and Dr Miao Guo, Department of Chemical Engineering
Industrial Partner: Scottish Water

Rapid urbanisation in major cities due to economic growth brings about a number of major challenges in particular ongoing environmental degradation. A unique opportunity exists to develop an innovative technology and implement strategies in the treatment of waste for the recovery of valuable products. In this PhD research project, we propose to develop a technology for the recovery of value added products (resource circular economy) from domestic waste (zero pollution). Specifically, this PhD programme will develop novel Engineered Lyophilic Nanoparticles (ELN) by incorporating lyophilic moieties for the adsorption of fats, for its removal and recovery, from domestic wastewater. The performance and adsorption capacity of ELNs will be experimentally determined, to obtain both thermodynamic and kinetic data for single and multiple cycles. These experimental data will serve as input to model based process design and optimisation to enable economic feasibility and technology performance evaluation.

Alex Bowles

Research Project: Development of activated carbons from End-of-life Tyre rubber Char for Carbon Capture and storage, for application in the global cement industry
Supervisor: Dr Geoff Fowler, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Industrial Partner: Pyrenergy Ltd

This PhD research project proposes to develop novel, modified activated carbon materials, using feedstock extracted from waste tyre rubber. The properties of this material would be optimised to be applied for the adsorption of carbon dioxide emitted from the manufacture of Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC). Through using tyres as a feedstock to manufacture activated carbon with bespoke surface and porosity properties, this research will reduce the impact associated with the pollution and health effects from waste tyres. Additionally, this project will develop a bespoke material specifically designed to address a major source of carbon dioxide. The consequences of the uncontrolled release of CO2 will have significant implications for the long term stability of the climate and ultimately the survival of global ecosystems.

Charlotte Roe

Research Project: BatBath - Immersion cooling of lithium-ion batteries with dielectric fluids
Supervisor: Dr Billy Wu, Dyson School of Design Engineering
Industrial Partner: Shell

Effective thermal management of lithium-ion batteries is essential for high performance and long lifetime operation in electric vehicle applications however, conventional cooling system which use water/air as the cooling media have limited heat rejection capabilities. This project will therefore investigate the application of immersion cooling of lithium-ion batteries with single and multi-phase dielectric fluids which has the potential to simplify the thermal management system design and improve its performance.

Catrin Harris

Research Project: Advanced petrophysics for the characterisation of trapping mechanisms for CO2 storage in the subsurface
Supervisors: Professor Ann Muggeridge and Dr Sam Krevor, Department of Earth Science and Engineering, and Alistair Jones, BP & Imperial College London
Industrial Partner: BP

This project will use the latest in petrophysical and digital rock core technology to improve our understanding of capillary and solubility trapping of CO2 in the subsurface, providing workflows and constitutive laws for a physics based representation of residual and dissolution trapping in field scale simulation. These are essential to enabling reliable modelling and assessment of potential geological CO2 storage sites.

Experimental core floods with X-ray imaging at two scales – where pore scale features may be resolved in mm-scale samples in a micro XCT scanner, and where continuum properties are observed over cm-scale rock cores in a medical XCT scanner – will be combined with numerical modelling to meet the following objectives:

  1. Evaluate the impacts of rock heterogeneity on upscaled residual trapping, including the development of a characterisation workflow,
  2. Observe rates of mass transfer between CO2 and brine as a function of fluid flow rates, fluid saturations, fluid-fluid interfacial areas, distance from chemical equilibrium of the fluid system and length scale, including the development of a constitutive law to represent these rates in reservoir simulation

Continuum numerical models of rock cores will be constructed, based on these observations of residual trapping in heterogeneous rock cores. Initial upscaling from these small size scales will be performed to develop an indication of the parameter space in which small scale heterogeneities must be characterised for accurate predictions of field scale trapping.

Marcus Annegarn

Research Project: Understanding the atomic and electronic structure of particulate matter from theory and experiment
Supervisors: Dr Johannes Lischner and Professor Alexandra Porter, Department of Materials

The goal of this PhD project is to gain insights into the atomic and electronic structure of particulate matter (PM) using a combination of accurate first-principles calculations and state-of-the-art transmission electron microscopy measurements and to correlate these insights with adverse health effects in the lung. The resulting detailed mechanistic understanding will pave the way towards a targeted approach for mitigating the effects of pollution, for example via improved catalysts or green infrastructure.

Enrico Manfredi Haylock

Research Project: Lead-acid battery recycling: Transitioning to a zero-pollution process
Supervisor: Dr David Payne, Department of Materials
Industrial Partner: EnviroWales Ltd

Lead and lead-containing compounds have been used for millennia, and find application across a wide range of industries and technologies, mainly the automotive sector in the form of lead-acid batteries (LABs). There is a strong need for technology development in this area. To produce LABs, ~50% of the lead used comes from secondary lead production, (recycled lead products), mostly spent lead acid batteries themselves. Battery recycling is important not only for the recovery of valuable materials and metals but also for efficient waste management in a bid to eliminate hazardous environmental impacts but lead acid battery recycling is ranked as one of the top 10 global pollution problems based on the toxicity of the pollutant in question, its effect on humans, and the overall number of people impacted. The current recycling methodology is based upon the ancient technique of metal smelting, where lead compounds are placed into a furnace (at around 1000 °C) where it is heated with coke or charcoal in order to isolate the lead from other compounds. Our technology offers the promise of a low-cost, low-energy and low-pollution alternative to current smelting processes that currently dominates the lead-acid battery recycling industry. The principle is based on a simple chemical conversion processes that use spent lead paste (solid battery waste mainly composed of lead and lead-compounds) as a starting material to produce lead and lead oxide(s), commodity lead materials which can be directly used in a production of new batteries. The aim of this PhD project is to understand the chemistry of the process in greater detail, particularly matching the chemistry of the calcined lead oxalate, to the chemistry required for lead oxides for new lead-acid batteries. This will require the skills in tailoring the solvents for the process and studying the chemical conversion in-situ (using synchrotron-based techniques such as EXAFS), as well as studying the product of the precipitation using X-ray diffraction, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and electron microscopy techniques.

Daniel Greenblatt

Research Project: Transition to zero-pollution transport through optimal hybrid powertrains. Supervisor: Professor Peter Lindstedt, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Industrial Partner: Toyota Motor Europe

The transition to zero-pollution transportation requires innovative powertrain designs that can meet the twin requirements of reduced emissions and increased thermal efficiency. Toyota is arguably the world-leader in hybrid powertrain design and the proposed project is the result of work performed with Toyota Motor Europe (TME). Apart from advanced defence and motorsport applications, the properties of a fuel have typically been treated independently of the design of the energy conversion device. Working jointly with the JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation, Toyota Motor Corporation Japan (TMC) has identified an opportunity to remove this limitation through a research programme that includes the determination of optimal fuel molecules that offer practical performance advantages. The use of conventional fuel performance descriptors such as RON/MON are inadequate to assess fuel performance in advanced hybrid power trains. This necessitates direct measurements of critical parameters and the translation of results into accurate models that explore the correlation of a) fuel structure with performance descriptors, and b) fuel performance descriptors with ICE performance, and c) further assesses the potential for the application of Machine Learning techniques.

Waseem Marzook

Research Project: Thermal performance and low temperature degradation of Li-ion batteries.
Supervisor: Dr Monica Marinescu, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Industrial Partner: Williams Advanced Engineering

Fast charging of lithium ion batteries is one of the most sought-after features. Key to achieving fast charging is an efficient thermal management of battery cells, in order to prevent overheating and minimise long term degradation that reduces the life of the battery. This PhD focuses on developing a standard thermal metric, the Cell Cooling Coefficient, for cylindrical cells. This form factor is popular with the automotive industry, but for it the relationship between thermal and electrical effects is complex. Apart from heat-induced degradation, Lithium plating is the most important degradation mode associated with fast charging. Lithium plating is notoriously difficult to accurately detect in-operando and to quantify.

Better detection methods for this degradation mode will be developed as part of this project, as well as better optimised thermal management approaches, aimed to reduce plating, delivering safer and longer lasting batteries. This will be achieved by experimentally studying the long term performance of batteries under different thermal management systems, focussing on investigating signs of lithium plating via the cell cooling coefficient metric.

Amran Mohamed

Research Project: Polymeric Additives in Lubricants for Electric Vehicle Powertrains
Supervisor: Dr Janet Wong, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Industrial Partner: Shell

The use of only one fluid for the whole powertrain means the fluid would need to achieve right viscosities at various parts of the powertrains: low viscosity at battery pack and motor, which can reach up to 180°C, for effective cooling; and higher viscosity at the drivetrain (room temperature). Note lubricating gears in drivetrains means the rheology of the fluid is mainly regulated by using relatively low molecular weight viscosity modifiers (VMs), which makes achieving rheology/viscosity control in such a wide temperature range in EV lubricant challenging. In this project, we target low molecular weight polymeric viscosity modifiers (VMs) that regulate the rheology of EV lubricants over a wide range of temperatures and shear rates. Being polymeric, their wide varieties of chemistry and molecular architectures provide flexibility to obtain properties tailored to specific applications. This project will use computer simulations to investigate the effect of VM molecular architectures on their stability and behaviour in lubricants in ranges of temperature, shear rates, and contact surfaces encountered in EV. Dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) simulations will be used. DPD method is a coarse grain method that allows simulations to be conducted in length scale and time scale that are close to those encountered in tribological contacts. The goal is to establish relationship among molecular architecture of additives, their stability and effectiveness. The knowledge can that be used to guide VM design for EV lubricants. Focusing on the effect of architecture at different shear rates and temperatures, the project involving investigating: 1. the stability, potential aggregation and confirmation of additives in bulk conditions without shear; 2. surface adsorption of additives on various walls; 3. the effect of shear rate on the stability and conformation of the VMs in bulk solutions and near the wall. Keeping the chemistry constant, the effect of molecular weight, polydispersity, VM-wall interactions and copolymer structures, mixtures of structures on their effectiveness will be examined.