Summary

Low carbon hydrogen has been identified as one of the government ten-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution that will bring the UK to achieve a net zero carbon society by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change’s 2019 report estimates that 270TWh of low carbon hydrogen will be needed to reach the Net Zero targets by 2050. The UK is aiming at producing 1GW by 2025 and 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production by 2030. At the same time, the UK has set the ambitious waste target to reduce the biodegradable waste component sent to landfill by 2030. Waste is, therefore, an ideal source of low carbon hydrogen.

Currently, 96% of hydrogen worldwide is generated from fossil fuels via natural gas and petroleum reforming or coal gasification with the remaining 4% produced through water electrolysis, either via the alkaline or proton exchange membrane routes. Thermochemical (gasification) and biochemical (dark fermentation) biomass conversion technologies also make a small dent in industrial hydrogen production.

While water electrolysis generates fewer CO2 emissions per kg of H2 compared to fossil fuel production, producing hydrogen from it is currently costly. Another disadvantage of water electrolysis is that electrolysis cells use rare metal catalysts, such as platinum and iridium. If electrolysis is to be applied on the large scale predicted, the current electrolysis set-ups will prove unsustainable.

This research project looks at biowaste (organic waste generated from industrial activities: food waste, agricultural residues, sewage sludge) electrolysis as an alternative to pure water electrolysis. This technology for high yielding offers a solution for both waste management and green hydrogen production. Literature studies show that biomass electrolysis can be carried out at significantly lower potentials and with comparable current densities to that of pure water and using sustainable electrode materials.

The research project aims to:

  1. developing pre-treatment methods for biowaste electrolysis using electrical and thermal technologies improving hydrogen yields;
  2. implementing a high-level design of the biowaste electrolysis process;
  3. carrying out experiments for hydrogen production, identifying the optimal operating conditions of the biowaste electrolysis process;
  4. performing computational modelling and simulation to analyse and optimise the biowaste electrolysis process;
  5. evaluating the environmental and techno-economic performance of the full scale biowaste electrolysis process.

The research project will demonstrate the operating of an electrolysis cell using waste biomass to generate hydrogen in batch and continuous flow. We aim to investigate how operating conditions (applied voltage, temperature, pressure, biowaste concentration) influence hydrogen generation rate and optimize them. The student will have the opportunity to come in contact with the academic and industrial national and international network that the Centre for Sustainable Technologies has developed in more than 20 year-experience on the theme of energy production from biomass and more recently from biowaste. Of particular note is the link with Chinese Universities and Research Institutes. Examples of recent national and international research projects on which the work will be built on are: CHP SEWAGE GASFN, ECSC COAL&WASTE and H2020 ALICE and CLARA.


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Clearly defined research proposal detailing background, research questions, aims and methodology

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Masters at 65%

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,500 (tbc) maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,750 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 15,500 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies



The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Philip Bradley

I had an interesting time at Ulster University, Jordanstown. Many thanks to all the lecturers, library staff and research school for their time and effort getting me through my PhD!

Philip Bradley - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Profile picture of Mengmeng Dou

My proudest moment was when I was accepted to pursue my PhD in Ulster University. My favourite memory was how I met my group of friends who also pursue their dreams in this foreign country. I'll never forget the tough times I underwent during my study, but thanks to those times that I finally managed to lose weight. I couldn't have got through this without my supervisors' support, kind encouragement and firmest trust. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be - do not procrastinate, you gotta learn to move forward in life when you feel stuck.

Mengmeng Dou - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Profile picture of Khoa Xuan Le

I came to Ulster University to challenge myself with a PhD study under Vice-Chancellor's Research Studentship at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning. My supervisors helped me much from giving valuable guidance to supporting any difficulties, which makes me feel that I am the luckiest student.I would like to take this opportunity to thank my supervisors, family, friends and colleagues for supporting me tirelessly. Without you, I couldn't have got through my PhD with some great achievements:Best PhD Research Paper in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning, Ulster UniversityBest Student Paper Award at the conference of World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science 2017, San Francisco, USA.Student Registration Grant for demonstrating academic excellence in research at 17th International Conference on Sustainable Technologies (SET 2018), China.

Khoa Xuan Le - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Profile picture of Wulme Dery

My academic background includes a MSc in Process Safety Technology, in which my topic of thesis involved the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. This prompted me to further my knowledge in this field by embarking on a PhD at the HySAFER institute at Ulster University. Here, I conducted research on the consequences of stored hydrogen tank rupture in confined space, with the use of computational fluid dynamics.My proudest moment in all of this was informing my parents, not only for being accepted as a PhD researcher at Ulster University, but also after three years that it was indeed completed. It goes without saying that without the guidance and support from my supervisors, the companionship created by my fellow colleagues with whom I shared an office with, and the people otherwise encountered and befriended during this period, the light at the end of the tunnel of it all would have rather been a train. And for that, I will be forever grateful and all the attained memories preserved

Wulme Dery - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Profile picture of Joe Frey

I worked for 35 years for the Housing Executive - latterly as its Head of Research. I had completed an MSc in Urban Policy in the 2000s - and it had been a longstanding ambition of mine to complete a PhD that brought together a number of strands of policy-related research that had been of particular interest to me. Undertaking a PhD at Ulster University allowed me to fulfil this ambition in an enjoyable manner.Completing my PhD has brought me an immense amount of personal satisfaction. A major part of this was down to the incredible support I received from my two supervisors Professor Stanley McGreal and Dr Michael McCord. Their ongoing advice, encouragement and support helped take me outside my comfort zone and played a major part in my achievement. Even my viva proved to be an enjoyable experience and enabled me to feel that I had gained a level of expertise in a sphere that could make a small but significant contribution to addressing some of the key housing issues facing policy

Joe Frey - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Profile picture of Ohk Kun Lim

I am a senior researcher at Korea Fire Institute which is a state-owned company specialised at fire safety engineering in the Republic of Korea. I obtained BSc and MSc in mechanical engineering. Prior to enter a PhD course at the School of the Built Environment in Ulster University, I worked for over a decade in the engineering industry. With relation to my PhD topic, my current research field is on fire safety using experimental and numerical approaches.Finally, I finished my study in Ulster University and became a Doctor of Philosophy in a field of fire safety!! There were a lot of good memories at Ulster University. I will never forget the rainbow on the Jordanstown campus which helps me to relieve my stress caused by stuck in concrete damaged plasticity theory. I felt great when receiving an annual PhD conference award as the best poster. I was excited to spent time with my officemates, Rumeel, and Emmanuel. I love every moment at Room 4B01 because it was a time to enhance my

Ohk Kun Lim - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Profile picture of Benjamin Fumey

I am a Swiss citizen, grew up in Papua New Guinea and graduated from Ukarumpa International Schools. I was trained and certified as a Swiss cabinetmaker and hold a Swiss diploma in electrical engineering from the Bern University of applied Science. In the past ten years I have been employed at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology and have performed research in the field of energy conversion and storage. Research activities include; Alkali water electrolysis, metal hydride hydrogen storage, PEM fuel cell and stack development, catalytic oxidation of hydrogen for high temperature heat (cooking), energy systems for autarky living and liquid sorption heat storage. I lead the subtask Components and Systems of the IEA, SHC Program, Task 58 ‘Material and Component Development for Thermal Energy Storage’ and have performed a part time external PhD at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment in the development of a heat and mass

Benjamin Fumey - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning


Profile picture of Owen Hawe

I studied my Integrated Masters (MSci) at Jordanstown from 2008-2012. After a few years working as an Estate Agent, I went back to academia to complete my PhD, looking at the broad area of health within the field of planning.Many PhDs are given a topic to begin with, however when I applied for the PhD scholarship I had to create my own research topic. This took me a while to establish, but eventually my hard work paid off and I narrowed my research into an area I am truly proud of - Active living, how the built environment can influence physical activity and how this was interpreted in the domains listed in my thesis title. My favourite aspect of the PhD was presenting my research and getting the acknowledgment from other academics that my research was interesting, robust and well thought out. I submitted an abstract to AESOP, an annual planning conference, and was given the opportunity to present my work in Venice. I also presented my work to the president of RTPI. There is nothing

Owen Hawe - PhD in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning