All natural composites

Supervisor(s)

Contact Dr Mike Ries to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

All polymer composites is a growing area of research and development in which the Leeds Soft Matter Physics group has been one of the foremost pioneers. Research to date, on melt processable polymer systems, has led to a number of major patents and via a University spin-off company, to commercial applications. In the view of replacing synthetic polymers by renewable matter, all-cellulose based composites have great potential. In this project we shall manufacture and study all-cellulose composites using “green” processing routes.

Selective surface solvation of the cellulosic fibres via an ionic liquid will be used. Preliminary studies (using flax and hemp fibres) have shown that excellent bonding can be achieved, but composite morphology and mechanical properties are not yet understood.

The composition of the cellulose solvent (type of ionic liquid and fraction of cosolvent), pre-activation of cellulose fibres (distilled water / caustic soda), the fibre type and hence properties (different cellulose sources), the fibre arrangement (unidirectional, woven, weave) and processing variables (solvation time and pressure) will be varied. The mechanical properties (tensile, bending, impact) of the composites will be studied and correlated with their structures (WAXS, NMR, SEM). We are consuming fossil fuels at an ever increasing rate with this finite resource expected to be effectively exhausted before the end of this century. Therefore we need to develop sustainable processing systems that can generate bio-based products with less environmental impact.

Processing of cellulose with ionic liquids gives the possibility to tap into nature’s most abundant biopolymer unlocking its remarkable natural properties via “green” dissolution routes. All-cellulose-composites have the potential to have excellent material characteristics due to the improved binding between matrix and fibre. As these materials will be formed entirely from cellulose their recyclability is greatly simplified, with this being an important consideration for the product lifetime. Cellulose is easily functionalized and thus the properties of all-cellulose composites can be readily tuned (hydrophilic-hydrophobic).

This work will then be expanded to incorporate other natural biopolymers such as silk and keratin, to form a variety of all-natural-composites.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in physics, or a relevant science/engineering degree such as (but not limited to) chemistry, biology, chemical engineering, electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, or mathematics.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University's minimum English Language requirements.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is 'All natural composites' as well as Dr Mike Ries as your proposed supervisor.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

If you require any further information please contact the Graduate School Office, e: maps.pgr.admissions@leeds.ac.uk