• IFRF supports another three students at UK Centre for Doctoral Training

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    • Post Author

      Philip Sharman

      IFRF Director

As an Industry Partner of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Resilient Decarbonised Fuel Energy Systems (RDFES) – the successor to the previous, highly successful CDT in CCS and clean fossil energy (CCSCFE) – IFRF has agreed to act as the ‘industrial sponsor/supervisor’ for three more Engineering Doctorate students who have commenced their four-year course of study (a three-year PhD plus one year of industry-relevant training).

Part of a network of 75 CDTs supported by the UK’s Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the RDFES CDT involves the universities of Nottingham, Sheffield and Cardiff, together with industry partners and cohorts of high-calibre PhD students, tackling the global challenge of providing resilient and decarbonised energy systems in a net-zero emissions world.  The Centre aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and support an environmentally friendly but reliable energy world by developing and implementing:

  • Techniques to enable carbon neutral fuels such as biomass and hydrogen to be used in systems designed for fossil fuels;
  • Use of CO2 as a chemical feedstock for industry and manufacturing – effectively turning a waste into a product;
  • Use of biomass as a feedstock for chemical processes as a replacement for fossil fuels;
  • CO2 capture technologies for a range of industrial sectors, including power generation, iron, steel, and cement manufacturing, and glass-making; and
  • Automation of large energy-intensive processes to improve their flexibility and emission performance.

The RDFES CDT aims to grow the next generation of research leaders and innovators, allowing them to develop a broad economic, societal and contextual awareness, as well as strong technical skills that will enable them to operate within multi-disciplinary team.

‘Our’ three new students – Jack Wells, Fernando Ruscillo and Jennifer Hancock – are all based at the University of Sheffield (UoS) but will spend much of their first year with a group of other EngD students within their cohort, undertaking compulsory or elective courses at the various partner universities and other training activities (including hands-on experience at the IFRF’s preferred research partner TERC’s pilot-scale facilities near Sheffield).

Jack has a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering from UoS and, as part of his studies, spent a year in industry with Tata Steel Europe within its Environmental Process Optimisation Team.  This placement convinced Jack that he wanted to do a PhD looking at carbon capture in the steel industry, focusing on the main contributor to CO2 emissions in the sector – blast furnaces.  Jack intends to look at amine-based post-combustion carbon capture on oxygen furnaces, considering different structural configurations (e.g. the use of intercooler absorbers, flue gas splitting, etc.) for different CO2 contents, and using Aspen Plus to model these.

Fernando also has a Masters in Chemical Engineering – in his case from University College London.  Having been awarded his MEng, Fernando worked as a process safety engineer in the oil & gas industry and then as a technology consultant in the investment banking sector before joining the CDT.  Along the way, he became interested in fuel cell technology and its potential in the energy transition.  Fernando’s proposed research will look at improving the overall performance of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells by reducing contact losses between the gas diffusion layer (GDL) and the bipolar plate through the use of a double-sided microporous layer.

Jenny studied microbiology & zoology at Aberystwyth University, Wales, developing an interest in bacteriology and applications for human health.  This led on to an MSc at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, focussed on microplastics as vectors for diseases.  Before joining the CDT, she spent worked for a grass-roots climate change organisation, helping volunteers develop skills in applying for grants.  Jenny intends to study the use of bacterial enzymes derived from methanogenesis bacteria to convert CO2 into methanol – a potential means of capturing and using CO2 from flue gas outputs from difficult-to-decarbonise industrial processes.

All three will be telling us a bit more about their proposed areas of research in future IFRF Blogs and Monday Night Mail items, once they have conducted their literature searches and defined the scope of their experimental work.  As their research progresses, we look forward to hearing from Jack, Fernando and Jenny about their projects and the results they achieve, and reading at least one paper from each of them in IFRF’s online Industrial Combustion Journal.

By way of an update on two of our previous students, Florence Lee (a student in the previous – CCSCFE CDT –  mentioned earlier) is now nearing the end of her third year and is making excellent progress in her studies looking into water management in the gas diffusion and microporous layers of PEM fuel cells.

Meanwhile, James Harman-Thomas is in his second year and is devoting a large portion of his time to progressing the ‘PhD-element’ of his EngD, studying (experimentally and theoretically) the chemical kinetic mechanism of methane combustion under supercritical CO2 conditions.  We hope to catch-up with both of them in IFRF blogposts over the next few months.

As members of IFRF, if you or your organisations would like to link with any of these five bright young energy-leaders-of-the-future to help advise or steer them in their research – or even to recruit them (!), please let Philip Sharman know and he will put you in touch.