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PhD Studentship: Reversible Polymerization for the Recycling of Plastics and Coatings

The Open University - Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Milton Keynes
Funding for: UK Students
Funding amount: Stipend: from £18,622 per year(2023/24 rate, indexed annually
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 7th February 2024
Closes: 26th February 2024
Reference: Studentship/LHCS/POLY
 

Ref: PHD/LHCS/POLY

Based in The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences (LHCS), The Open University, Milton Keynes

Start October 2024

Stipend:  from £ 18,622 per year (2023/24 rate, indexed annually)

Project summary

This industrially focused project involves synthetic polymer chemistry and builds on pilot work we have done in preparing sustainable polymers with chemically cleavable bonds that can help support a more circular economy. The aim is to develop a reversible polymerization process that affords control of both product formation and product decomposition. This control allows the polymer to be decomposed, depolymerised or de-cured and should make it easier to remove the polymer from the surface it is adhered to, simplifying its recovery from the environment. Acrylates are increasingly being used as alternatives to thermoplastics in the road marking industry and this work will use chemical or light-induced processes such as Photoinduced Electron Transfer (PET) to control the polymerisation of acrylates.

This innovative project would suit a student with an undergraduate degree with some industrial experience or Masters in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering or a related discipline with an interest in synthetic and analytical chemistry techniques applied to functional materials. You will gain experience in synthetic organic chemistry, polymer synthesis using RAFT and ATRP techniques and analytical techniques including NMR, Fluorescence Spectroscopy, Mass Spectrometry, HPLC, and GPC. This is further supported by an extensive training programme in wider research skills.

This studentship comprises an EPSRC CASE award in partnership with WJ Products, a leading road marking and highway safety business. The studentship carries an enhanced PhD stipend and the opportunity to gain valuable industrial experience by working directly with the industrial partner. While there has been considerable effort in developing processes and materials to make plastics recyclable and reusable, some plastics and polymeric materials remain difficult to recycle and typically end up in landfill. These materials are usually based on hard polystyrenes, epoxy resins and acrylates, which are attractive to industries which require hard-wearing products such as road markings and coatings. Furthermore, many of the current methods to make plastics recyclable or decomposable diminish important mechanical properties including hardness and the durability required for surface coatings. Physical, mechanical, and thermal characterisation of the materials will be used to determine their usefulness as coatings in industry.

We have been piloting some approaches to address this issue that can be broadly classified as mechanical and chemical approaches. The mechanical approach is typically classed as looking at how to reprocess the plastics and polymers on a bulk scale to recover and reuse the existing material as a feedstock. This project focused on developing new chemical approaches where the ability to reuse and recycle the polymer is built-in to the material’s chemical structure.

Further information

This three-year 3 month research studentship is funded by the EPSRC as a CASE Award in partnership with WJ Products within the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at The Open University and provides an enhanced stipend from £18,622 per year (2023/24 rate, indexed annually) and all academic fees are covered.

The project is supervised at the OU by Dr James Bruce Dr Simon Collinson, Dr James Bowen and an industrial supervisor from WJ Products. The student would be required to live in the UK and within commuting distance of The Open University in Milton Keynes.

Closing Date:  26 February 2024 - 17:00

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