PhD Studentship in Advanced Materials from Biomass: Strong Carbon Fibres from Lignin

Imperial College London - Department of Chemistry

We are inviting highly motivated candidates for a PhD studentship in the field of “Strong carbon fibres from lignin”. The studentship includes fees and a bursary for UK/EU nationals for the duration of 3 years. The start date is 1 October 2018 or earlier if required.

Carbon fibre reinforced composites are strong and durable materials that are surprisingly light-weight. They can be used to construct cars, planes and wind turbine blades. Carbon fibres are traditionally made from the fossil fuel-derived precursor polyacrylonitrile (PAN) in an expensive, energy-intensive process involving toxic chemicals. If this is not addressed, the use of carbon fibre composites will continue to receive criticism for poor environmental impact and the high cost production limit their reach.

Lignin is a major component in wood and the largest by-product of the production of sustainable biofuels from wood. Currently, utilisation of lignin is almost non-existent, but this will change through technological advances. Creating strong carbon fibres from lignin has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of carbon fibre production and also drastically cut the cost of carbon fibres by more than 75%. The challenge is the low strength of the lignin-derived carbon fibres produced to date. This is due to poor control of the lignin properties such as subunit composition, functional groups, molecular weight and branching. The biopolymer needs to be more carefully understood and controlled before it can be used successfully as a source of renewable carbon fibres.

The goal of this project is to generate tailored lignins using a novel lignin isolation process (ionosolv process). The ionosolv process uses ionic liquids, a group of non-volatile solvents that are capable of extracting and modifying lignins very effectively. You will characterise the lignins from a variety of sources and extrude them into lignin fibres and ultimately convert them to carbon fibres. You will analyse the relationship between the structure of the lignins and the resulting carbon fibres in detail and introduce modifications that improve fibre spinning and carbonisation. The project is cross-disciplinary, marrying the fields of synthetic chemistry, materials science, Green Chemistry and biology and it also provides contact with chemical engineering and commercial thinking.

The successful candidate will join a dynamic research team focusing on carbon-based assemblies and composites at Imperial College London (; the group has a strong activity in the chemistry, processing, and applications of nanocarbons. Applicants should have solid knowledge in physical science, with an interest in carbon materials from biomass, combined with good teamwork and communication skills; experience in organic synthetic chemistry is beneficial. Candidates should have (or be expecting to have) a Master’s degree (1st class or upper second class or equivalent) in materials, chemistry, or a relevant discipline.

For further details of the post, please contact Dr Agi Brandt-Talbot, Applicants will be required to complete an electronic application form.

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