R190307 - PhD Studentship - Reducing air pollutions and greenhouse gases in urban and rural areas using atmospheric solar photocatalysis

Updated: 10 months ago
Location: Birmingham, ENGLAND
Job Type: FullTime
Deadline: The position may have been removed or expired!

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Engineering and Applied Science - Studentships
Location:  Aston University Main Campus
Basis:  Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours BST on Friday 30 August 2019
Reference:  R190307

PhD Studentship (3.5 years)

Supervisor: Dr Wei Li

Key words: Air quality, Greenhouse gas removal, negative emission technology

Applications are invited for a studentship in the Aston Institute of Urban Technology and the Environment (ASTUTE), funded by the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The successful applicant will join a cohort of graduate students working on projects across the broader Smart Cities field, and as part of the PhD will receive training and experience in collaborative research, relevant to industry and Smart City planners.

The studentship is offered in collaboration with Pilkington Technology Management Ltd, UK.

The position is available to start in October 2019

Financial Support

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the home/EU fees rate, plus a maintenance allowance of £15,009 in 2019/20 (subject to eligibility).

Overseas Applicants

Applicants from outside the EU may apply for this studentship but will need to pay the difference between the ‘Home/EU’ and the ‘Overseas’ tuition fees, currently this is £12,573 in 2019/20.

As part of the application you will be required to confirm that you have access to this additional funding.

Project Description

Gas emissions from human activity are threating our health and environment. For instance, motor vehicles are a significant source of urban air pollutions (e.g. NOx , CO and SO2 ) and are increasingly important contributors of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs, e.g. CO2 , and NO2 ). From livestock sector in rural area, the emission of CH4 in particular is also one of the largest sources of GHGs globally.

Most of these air pollutions and non-CO2 GHGs can be eliminated by photocatalysis transforming them into benign atmospheric gases which would be much less harmful for health and less active GHGs than their precursors. These photocatalytic processes enable us to harness sunlight to promote the environmental remediation and have been approved very effective at lab scale.

There are large scale outdoor experiments conducted in Japan, Europe and the US for vehicle emission and non-CO2 GHGs removal utilising photocatalytic materials applied on road surface, building exterior and livestock houses. However, the evaluation of outdoor systems is hampered by the complexity of monitoring trace concentrations in the open environment. Results from limited amount of well-defined experiments were disappointing. The reasons are 1) targeted gases are extremely diluted, 2) outdoors environmental factors (solar intensity, wind speed and direction and relative humidity) are difficult to control, and 3) catalyst lifetime is shortened compared to lab tests because of the complexity of air quality in real conditions.

Process intensification is needed for effective large scale application, which requires sufficient airflow given the extreme dilution of target gases. Significant amount of airflow needs to be collected, processed under well-controlled parameters (i.e. light intensity, flow speed and direct, relative humidity) and monitored in-situ. 

A novel technology, which combines solar up-drafting towers (SUTs) and photocatalysis was proposed recently by Dr de Richter et al. (Dr de Richter and two other authors (Profs Davies and Ming) will all be external advisers in this project). The proposed technology has been presented as an emerging technology in two independent reports from the Royal Society and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

With the same principle to SUTs, there are derivations of solar up-drafting devices can be utilised to generate the necessary mass airflow driven only by solar energy. Fig 1 illustrates the principle and some examples. 

Fig 1 A) Trombe wall, B) double skin façade, and C) ventilation solar chimney, are three derivations of solar up-drafting tower. D) We propose to build a double skin façade photocatalysis rig on top of Main Building roof.

As also pointed out in the two latest reports, there are scientific challenges before we can apply the technology in a large scale, i.e. a broader assessment of its effectiveness, cost and sustainability impacts is lacking to date. This timely PhD project is directly designed to tackle the first scientific challenge (i.e. how effective will the photocatalytic approach be?) and after the project, foundations will be laid to addresses the next two scientific challenges (i.e. scalability and sustainability).

This studentship will build a rig, and aim to investigate and optimise the choice of catalysts and their operating conditions for the elimination of different target gases in urban and rural environments. It will also preliminary consider costs, durability and sustainability impacts implied in scaling up the process.

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have a first class or upper second class honours degree or equivalent qualification in chemical engineering, chemistry, mechanical engineering, material science or other relevant subject areas. Preferred skill requirements include knowledge/experience of photocatalysis, reaction engineering, reactor modelling and computational fluid dynamics.

We would particularly like to encourage applications from women seeking to progress their academic careers. Aston University is committed to the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter , recognised recently by a prestigious Silver Award to EAS, and we pride ourselves on our vibrant, friendly and supportive working environment and family atmosphere.

Contact information

For formal enquiries about this project contact Dr Wei Li by email at w.li8@aston.ac.uk . 

Submitting an application

Details of how to submit your application, and the necessary supporting documents can be found here .  

The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, however candidates should take this opportunity to explain how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should demonstrate their familiarity with some relevant research literature.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at seasres@aston.ac.uk  

Further particulars and application forms are available in alternative formats on request i.e. large print, Braille, tape or CD Rom.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact HR via recruitment@aston.ac.uk

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