PhD opportunities at the Energy Institute

The Energy Institute at the University of Sheffield has a number of EPSRC-funded studentships available, in line with the Institute’s remit to carry out interdisciplinary research across the area of energy.

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These studentships offer candidates the opportunity to carry out research within one of the leading departments, under the supervision of members of the Energy Institute. 

Capturing wasted energy from urban light rail systems to support fleet EV charging for urban and last mile delivery vehicles

Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Deadline: Wednesday, June 01, 2022

About the project

Electric Vehicle (EV) uptake is accelerating, driven in the UK by the NetZero and sustainability agenda, with plans to end fossil-fuelled new car sales by 2030, and the establishment of sustainable transport policies such as urban clean air and low emission zones. Whilst current interest in green sustainable energy and low carbon futures have promoted the attractiveness of EVs, commercial EV fleets and their charging infrastructure are not being considered to the same level as private cars.

This PhD project will explore variations in EV charging requirements of commercial EV delivery fleets commonly used in last mile operations. The study will explore the opportunity for introducing localised renewable / green energy generation (e.g. PV) and energy storage at urban consolidation / transhipment hubs on the outskirts of urban centres with the aim of providing additional grid support and charging infrastructure to increase the use of EV fleets for last mile operations.

Specifically, the interdisciplinary project will enable detailed energy demand studies for urban fleet EV charging requirements to be conducted with a view to integrating targeted light-rail connected urban environments. The pre-existence of light-rail systems may offer interesting opportunities to provide storage and fleet charging, adapted to various last mile delivery contexts. The synergic use of predictable fleet operations, and available storage for the rail systems (e.g. trams) will provide better utilisation of tram energy networks, and facilitate installation of last mile delivery charging infrastructure without major grid reinforcement. Additionally, local ‘on-site’ energy generation will lower the grid impact and carbon footprint of the system further, with local storage providing flexibility to optimise the whole system.

The project offers an exciting opportunity to adopt an interdisciplinary approach through both a societal and techno-economic scenario impact evaluation; and a needs analysis to determine optimal sizing and placement of local energy generation and storage infrastructure, for integrating EV charging hubs with consolidation / transhipment centres.

We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD candidate who is interested in participating in interdisciplinary real-world applied research. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to liaise with relevant local authority and transport industry stakeholders, utilising current transport and logistics contacts of the supervisors. They will be expected to attend a variety of conferences to present various parts of their research. The PGR student will work closely with both the Management School and the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at the University of Sheffield, under the supervision of Dr Erica Ballantyne and Professor David Stone. For informal enquiries about this opportunity contact Dr Erica Ballantyne e.e.ballantyne@sheffield.ac.uk.

Project outcomes:

The overall aim of this research project is to explore the opportunity for integrating urban light rail networks with EV charging and transhipment hubs for last mile delivery EV fleets. The research is expected to identify suitable EV charging hubs with capacity for consolidation / transhipment facilities and investigate the potential for localised renewable / green energy generation (e.g. PV) and energy storage linked to urban rail networks.

The expected outcomes include:

  • Detailed energy demand studies for different profiles of urban EV fleet charging requirements
  • Identification of opportunities to integrate targeted light-rail connected urban environments with EV fleet charging
  • A societal and techno-economic scenario impact evaluation for local ‘on-site’ generation considering grid impact and carbon footprint

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Photocatalytic reforming of organics for sustainable production of hydrogen under visible light irradiation

Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Deadline: Wednesday, June 01, 2022

About the project

The energy production has become a growing concern in recent times with over 80 per cent of the global energy consumption relying on the use of fossil fuels. This leads to several problems: first, fossil energy sources are rapidly depleting; second, extensive use of fossil fuels results in serious environmental issues such as the global warming. Hydrogen represents a potential alternative energy carrier due to its high efficiency and zero-emission operations. For this reason, many research activities are currently directed toward the utilization of semiconductor photocatalysts, such as titanium dioxide (TiO2), to harvest the renewable solar energy and produce hydrogen. However, these conventional photocatalysts present several problems, such as high electron-hole recombination and poor absorption of visible light, which lead to low efficiencies.

This project aims at identifying novel photocatalytic materials based on the addition of transition metals to the semiconductor surface, for sustainable production of hydrogen under visible light irradiation. Our vision is to reimagine the conventional TiO2-based photocatalytic system to produce hydrogen by reforming of organic molecules, invoking synergistic coupling of functional materials.

Success of this project will provide the scientific community with an optimized catalytic system for production of hydrogen through photocatalytic reforming of organics and with a promising technology to address the environmental crises and energy shortage. These challenging goals will be achieved through a combination of computational (DFT studies, microkinetic modelling) and experimental techniques.

The PGR student will work between the Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) and Chemistry of the University of Sheffield under the supervision of Dr. Sergio Vernuccio and Dr. Natalia Martsinovich.

For informal enquiries about this role and recruiting contact Dr. Sergio Vernuccio on s.vernuccio@sheffield.ac.uk.

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Novel additives to enhance the performance of low carbon cements for a Net Zero future

Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Deadline: Wednesday, June 01, 2022

About the project

Cement is the ‘glue’ in concrete, the foundation upon which our modern civilisation is built. However, this comes with a huge environmental cost - cement production generates 8 per cent of global CO 2 emissions, and half of all materials extracted from Earth are used in concrete.

Luckily, recently developed low-carbon cements that we are investigating exhibit enhanced properties and reduce CO 2 emissions by >80 per cent, compared to traditional Portland cement (PC), and are made almost entirely from industrial wastes. These cements require superplasticising copolymer dispersants to improve workability and flow characteristics, particularly for ultra-high performance concrete. However, dispersant behaviour differs significantly in each case due to extensive differences between aqueous and solid state chemistry in these cements, compared to PC. New alkali-resistant high-performance dispersants are urgently required for these next- generation low-carbon cements to make them practical for use in large-scale construction applications.

In this PhD project we will examine the interactions between organic superplasticisers and inorganic cement particles in these next-generation low-carbon cements, and then use this knowledge to design novel superplasticisers with enhanced performance. We will adopt a new in situ characterisation approach (including surface-specific techniques and both spectroscopic and microstructural characterisation) to investigate the mechanisms and kinetics of organic- inorganic interactions, and their effects on cement performance. We will discover the fundamental processes controlling dispersion, fluidisation and reaction of these next-generation low-carbon cements, and use this knowledge to design, synthesise and test novel superplasticisers with enhanced performance. This will drive implementation and a circular economy, help decarbonise cement production, and help give humanity the best possible chance of mitigating climate change.

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