Energy USRG EPSRC Summer Bursaries 2014
July 1, 2014
by Natalie Sims
Natalie Sims – ‘Working towards developing sustainable biofuels’
I am currently studying at the University of Southampton, approaching the end of my second year in a masters degree in Chemistry. Although my degree covers many aspects of Chemistry, an area that has recently initiated an interest during studies is the development of sustainable routes in chemistry and the design and synthesis of catalysts in aid of this. To further my knowledge into this particular field I decided to apply for a research placement over summer. This internship will be undertaken under the supervision of Dr Robert Raja and his research group.
There is an unrelenting demand for the development of sustainable chemical processes that utilise renewable feedstocks. Catalysts have always been highly valued in the chemical industry and, with our dwindling energy supplies, there has been a major impetus for developing renewable energy technologies and biomass feedstocks (such as cellulose), have considerable potential for the generation of sustainable polymers. This cellulose, which is the most abundant naturally occurring polymer on Earth, can be transformed into the biomass-derived FDCA and it is this chemical that can serve as a sustainable substitute for terephthalic acid in the synthesis of poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). The main objective of this project is to develop a bi-functional hierarchical aluminophosphate (AlPO) catalyst for the sustainable production of FDCA; a large portion of this will be developing my own design tools for creating active sites within the catalyst and then meticulously tailoring them to enable specific transformations involving these biomass feedstocks.
During my time in the summer, I hope to build upon my knowledge and research skills through working on this multidisciplinary theme which is strongly linked to sustainable energy applications. This project provides me with the resources to fully characterise any materials I will have synthesised using a range of techniques, such as 3D tomography and electron microscopy, which I have not previously had the opportunity to use. To surmise, this internship will be an invaluable opportunity for me to gain insight into a research career that adopts Chemistry for renewable energy applications.