The chemical industry urgently needs to cut its CO2 emissions. Electrification will reduce emissions from processes by powering them with renewable electricity in place of fossil fuels. Circular processes will reuse valuable resources (e.g. plastics), and in doing so will cut end-of-life emissions and reduce resource depletion rates. We research novel plasma technologies to facilitate both electrification and circular processes for the chemical industry. In future, industry expects to have an environmentally sustainable source of methane, which can be most effectively valorised via upgrading to ethylene; a crucial feedstock in the production of plastics. However, methane-to-ethylene conversion is notoriously difficult, as it a strongly endothermic reaction with highly complex chemistry. Thermal plasma technology is a promising approach for methane to ethylene conversion as it allows the possibility for high efficiency, excellent reactant conversion, and refined product selectivity.
In this project, we use microwave generated plasma to induce ultra-fast heating and quenching of methane and its reaction products, at rates around 106 – 108 °C/s. With such ultra-fast heating and quenching, we can induce thermal decomposition of methane and freeze the reaction products before further chemistry has time to occur. There is a short window of opportunity where highly selective conversion of methane to ethylene should be possible. In this project we will evaluate this window of opportunity – this requires temporally and spatially resolved in-situ measurements, a task which is ideally suited to laser diagnostics. We will assess the chemistry occurring within the plasma, from which we will determine – is it possible to selectively produce ethylene by ultra-fast thermal plasma processing of methane?
The successful candidate is expected to perform laboratory experiments to evaluate processes occurring in methane plasma discharges. Experiments will be performed in our new laboratory, located at Chemelot, 20 km North of Maastricht. You will work independently to collect, analyse, and evaluate experimental data. You will join a small team working on similar (i.e. plasma and spectroscopy) experiments. We expect that you will regularly discuss, share, and present your work with fellow team members, colleagues, and wider audiences at international conferences. We expect you will write a number of high-quality scientific articles, ultimately culminating in your PhD thesis.
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