PhD Studentship: Tailoring Surfaces in Heterogeneous Catalysis for Fine Chemical Production

The University of Manchester

Dr C D'Agostino

Heterogeneous catalysis is a key technology in industry, enabling manufacturing of a wide variety of bulk chemicals and petrochemicals. In recent decades, many efforts have been dedicated to the development of new, more sustainable processes for the production of fine and specialty chemicals, traditionally produced using homogeneous catalysis, through heterogeneous supported catalysts. The main advantage of using heterogeneous catalysts is in a much easier catalyst handling and less energy intensive catalyst separation from the reactive species. However, heterogeneous processes are complex in nature and involve a series of physical and chemical phenomena, which are often inter-linked and difficult to unravel. In addition, catalytic conversion and selectivity are generally lower than those achieved by homogeneous catalysis. One key aspect that requires further understanding is the effect of the support on catalyst performances. Whilst the main role of the support is to provide a large surface area for the deposition of active species, in the form of metal nanoparticles, it has often been reported that the nature of the support may affect significantly reaction pathways in terms of conversion and selectivity, for reasons that are to a large extent still unclear. Recently, the combination of established experimental tools with newly developed Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) protocols has been able to reveal new insights into the behaviour of reactive species inside catalyst pores and how this affects the reaction pattern. 

Applicants are invited for a PhD Studentship under the supervision of Dr Carmine D’Agostino in the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science of The University of Manchester. The main goal of this PhD project is to investigate and understand the role of the support, including chemical modifications at the surface, in selective hydrogenation reactions catalysed by metal nanoparticle-supported catalysts. The project is highly experimental in nature and the candidate will be expected to carry out: i) catalyst synthesis; ii) extensive catalyst characterisation; iii) testing of batch model reactions; iv) NMR studies able to investigate molecular dynamics and adsorption of reactive species inside catalyst pores, in particular Pulsed-Field Gradient (PFG) NMR diffusion as well as NMR relaxation measurements. 

Applicants should have or expect to achieve a 1 or at least a 2.1 honours degree (or equivalent) in Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering or related disciplines. 

Candidates with a strong background and interest in material synthesis, characterisation and reaction testing as well as good understanding of catalysis and physical chemistry are highly desirable. Basic knowledge of NMR would be advantageous.

Funding Notes

Funding covers tuition fees and annual maintenance payments of at least the Research Council minimum (currently £14,553) for eligible UK and EU applicants.

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