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Funded PhD Opportunity

Multifunctional structural supercapacitors for electric transportation

Subject: Engineering


There is a strong need in electric-based transportation for energy systems that are compact, integrated, lightweight and functional for power delivery.  One route to achieve this challenge is to integrate energy storage capability into multifunctional systems, which serve as the structural materials used in system assembly. Practical development of a multifunctional energy storage platform must simultaneously enable structural integrity and energy storage capability. Various forms of structural energy storage systems have been described and these include structural supercapacitors and batteries.  To create a structural supercapacitor, at least two multifunctional components are required, a structural reinforcement/electrode, and a structural separator/electrolyte. Due to their excellent mechanical properties so far  efforts have been focused on carbon fibre based epoxy composite electrodes. However, the use of carbon fibres is a bottleneck to achieve practical charge storage capability, as these materials exhibit surface area that is near 10000 lower than state-of-the art nanomaterials for supercapacitors.

On the other hand the separator and electrolyte/matrix play also important roles on the construction of the supercapacitor. In contract to the conventional supercapacitors, structural supercapacitors need both good ionic conductivity and excellent mechanical properties. Overall, presently there exists a significant performance gap, in terms of storing performance, between currently available structural supercapacitors and traditional supercapacitor technologies.

In this context, this PhD project aims to develop unique lightweight structural supercapacitors employing carbon fibre-reinforced polymer composites [1-2].  The supercapacitors will use nano-enhanced carbon fibres to serve both as electrodes and structural reinforcement  in combination with  nanoengineered  glass fibre to serve as separator and ionic conductive epoxy to serve as the ion conducting phase. This design will enable high surface-area mechanically robust interfaces that are light  mechanically strong and will have the potential  of simultaneously storing and releasing electrical energy.

The specific objectives of the project are:

1. Develop methods for grafting new nano- and meso- structures directly on carbon fibres and glass fibres.

2. Develop strategies that will allow the effective assembly of the supercapacitor.

3. Perform detail structural and electrochemical and mechanical characterisation of the produced structures and evaluate the interplay between power storage and mechanical performance  of the produced devices.

Successful implementation of these higher value-added nano-tailored structural supercapacitors with improved mechanical and storage  properties will have applications not only in transportation but also in space and aerospace industry. The project involves a strong interdisciplinary approach. In order to accomplish the goals of the project the student will be trained  to develop expertise and integrate knowledge in the areas of nanomaterials synthesis, functionalization and characterization and laminated polymer composites.

Skills required - The project will suit a candidate with skills in any of the following areas: polymer composites, electrochemistry, mechanical engineering,  chemistry, with an interest in  nanomaterials characterisation and fabrication.

Further details: Prof. Papakonstantinou, Carbon based Nanomaterials group ( References [1] N. Shirshova, et al “Structural composite supercapacitors, Compos. A 46 (2013) 96–107 [2] BK. Deka, “Recent development and challenges of multifunctional structural supercapacitors for automotive industries” Int. J.

Essential criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £14,777 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 14,777 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 19 February 2018

Interview Date
Mid March 2018

Contact supervisor

Professor Pagona Papakonstantinou

Other supervisors


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