PhD Position in Benign and Circular by Design – Sustainable Organophosphates

Updated: about 2 months ago
Deadline: 18 Oct 2021

The use of non-renewable resources is causing global-scale environmental problems, which threaten the stability of our planet earth. The safe operating space to maintain liveable conditions on earth has been formulated in the planetary boundaries, of which several are already overstepped. Many of these problems are caused by human interruptions of biogeochemical cycles of the biogenic elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur leading to the creation of waste.

Zero Waste is a part of the university-wide theme of Sustainable Prosperity presented in the University of Amsterdam’s (UvA) 2021-2026 strategic plan. With Zero Waste, the UvA Faculty of Science (FNWI) aims to contribute to alleviating these environmental problems resulting from the current linear use of resources by (re-)designing processes, materials, and products to keep materials in closed cycles while meeting our needs.

Zero Waste will strongly connect to education at the Faculty of Science, especially to the new BSc programme Science and Design that focusses on four interdisciplinary themes: 1) high-tech designer materials, 2) renewable energy and resources, 3) engineering life and health, and 4) information science, modelling and simulation. Six Science & Design Doctorates will form the start of the Zero Waste research theme. They will work together in physical proximity and intensive interaction to strengthen the common aspects of the projects, while researching a broad range of topics. Physically, research and demonstration activities and part of the research of the theme can be carried out in SustainaLab , the new Matrix ONE building at Amsterdam Science Park .

Phosphorus is essential for life on Earth and plays a prominent role in modern science and technology, where organophosphorus compounds are of immense importance for their wide-ranging applications in material science, nanotechnology and life sciences. At present, however, the overall industrial processes to produce these phosphorus compounds are unsustainable, energy intensive, and inefficient. Additionally, many organophosphorus chemicals are found in the environment, contributing to ever-growing chemical pollution. To meet the growing demand for phosphorus compounds with high functionalities, whilst addressing pressing sustainability issues and complying with increasingly stringent environmental regulations, we will develop environmentally benign and circular organophosphates with enhanced biodegradability by bringing together sustainable synthesis and design, with a key focus on lowering environmental impacts. Thereby, we help to align the societal benefits of chemicals with ecosystem integrity. Our interdisciplinary approach exploits facets of (in)organic, computational and environmental chemistry, with an emphasis on synthesis, molecular design, environmental impact assessment, and biodegradability.

In this project, we will develop a computer-aided framework for the design of benign chemicals, making use of state-of-the-art predictive models and innovative experimental assessment techniques for environmentally relevant properties. Simultaneously, we will advance the eco-friendly production of benign organophosphates using waste phosphates as renewable feedstock, which will prevent their constant spillage in the environment. We will implement these innovations into a broader context and develop scalable protocols, which are needed to realize safe and sustainable phosphorus chemistry on a large scale, introducing systematic and targeted molecular design, as well as recycling, clean, and ‘cradle-to-cradle’ technologies as ground-breaking changes in the field to ensure the continued beneficial use of phosphorus, in particular as sustainable flame-retardant additives for textiles.

What are you going to do

  • Be active in the fundamental research of our sustainable chemistry group, publishing in high level international journals, presenting at leading conferences and supervising BSc and MSc students.
  • Study and investigate the following research questions.
    • How can we synthesize organophosphorus chemicals directly from struvite without excessive redox cycling?
    • How can the synthesis be optimized according to Green and Circular Chemistry principles?
    • How can we facilitate a systematic molecular design of safe and biodegradable alternative chemicals?
    • How can we predict function?
    • Can we predict benign structures?
  • Are the designed organophosphorus chemicals biodegradable? Do they degrade without producing harmful transformation products?
  • Are the designed organophosphorus chemicals non-toxic to humans and organisms in the environment?
  • Do the designed organophosphorus chemicals fulfil their intended function?

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