Biomethane can displace natural gas for heating and fossil fuels for transport. As a sustainable low carbon fuel, biomethane is therefore critical to delivering net-zero in the UK. This PhD seeks to expand biomethane production from the water industry by converting carbon dioxide (CO2) in biogas to methane with innovative photocatalytic membrane technology. The energy produced can be almost doubled with the technology proposed, which simultaneously ‘upgrades’ biogas to biomethane, to create a significant competitive advantage. The candidate will receive an attractive financial package (£19K/annum (tax free) bursary; UK fees paid*) from sponsors EPSRC, Anglian, Northumbrian, Severn Trent and Thames Water, making this an opportunity to work at the intersection of science led research and industry to create real world impact. Read more Read less

Decarbonising heat and vehicle fuels are the most difficult challenges in delivering net-zero for the UK by 2050. Biomethane already has the potential to replace 18% of natural gas consumption. Production capacity is set to grow further through the UK Green Gas Support Scheme (2021-) to deliver additional carbon savings of 21.6MtCO2E. The UK water industry is a primary producer of biogas in the UK and has delivered the World’s first sector wide commitment to deliver net-zero by 2030. Increasing biomethane production is one of the key options to delivering this ambitious strategy, where biomethane can also be used as a low carbon alternative to vehicle fuels.

One method to increase biomethane production is to transform the carbon dioxide present in biogas to methane (‘methanation’). This can improve methane production capacity from existing installations by almost 100%, which can reduce the cost of expanding capacity and accelerate the transition to net-zero.

We are therefore developing an innovative membrane technology to facilitate photocatalytic methanation for the efficient transformation of CO2 to methane. The membrane provides selective transport of CO2 from biogas into water comprising a concentrated photocatalyst slurry which uses light to excite electrons at the catalyst surface. The catalyst reacts with water to create the hydrogen needed for reaction and mediates the transformation of CO2 (and H2) to methane. The process will permit biomethane production, and CO2 methanation within one technology, which does not rely on the costly production of hydrogen, or expensive catalysts for processing. This unique configuration therefore creates a low-resource route to biomethane expansion which can use renewable power to create a highly attractive carbon negative biomethane fuel.

This PhD is funded by EPSRC and four major UK Water Utilities (Anglian, Northumbrian, Severn Trent and Thames water).

The project will: (i) study the mass transport of CO2 across the membrane into concentrated catalytic slurries; (ii) develop hydrodynamic conditions that can enhance CO2 transformation by controlling the size and shape of catalytic aggregates, and their interaction with light; (iii) relate operating conditions to the rate of transformation, product formation and yield to improve methanation efficiency; and (iv) develop a business case for investment. Training will be provided, and there will also be an opportunity to gain experience in the design and construction of experimental technologies, as well as undertaking their final evaluation.

By the end of the project, the successful candidate will by leading delivery of the enabling science for this disruptive technology, which offers substantive industrial and environmental benefit, providing a unique skillset in an emerging platform technology that will see use in numerous applications. The researcher will be based at Cranfield University to take advantage of their world class experimental research facilities and will work in collaboration with industry partners throughout the technology development, providing an opportunity for direct relevant industrial experience. UK and international travel are expected, to disseminate scientific progress to industry and academic audiences.

In addition to an extensive transferrable skills programme on offer at Cranfield, the candidate will work with their academic supervisors to tailor a personal development plan based on experience, and career aspirations. Specific laboratory skills training will be provided. Our aspiration is to train leading research talent, with advanced analytical and communication skills, that will differentiate our finishing candidates from their peers to maximise their success in academia and industry.

At a glance

  • Application deadline31 Aug 2022
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date26 Sep 2022
  • Duration of award4 years
  • EligibilityUK, Rest of World, EU
  • Reference numberSWEE0185

Supervisor

1st Supervisor: Professor Ewan McAdam  

2nd Supervisor: Yadira Bajon-Fernandez, Mingming Zhu

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree in chemical engineering, environmental engineering, chemistry, environmental science or a related discipline.

Funding

Sponsored by EPSRC, Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and Thames Water, this studentship will provide a bursary of up to £19,000 (tax free) plus fees* for four years.

 

This studentship is open to UK and international students (including EU countries). Due to funding rules, there will be a restriction on the number of EPSRC studentships that can be allocated to international students by the University.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

For further information please contact:
Name: Professor Ewan McAdam
Email: e.mcadam@cranfield.ac.uk
T: (0) 1234 750111 Ext: 4546

If you are eligible to apply for this studentship, please complete the online application form stating the reference No. SWEE0185