Potential PhD projects

Research projects

Ranked as one of the top Chemical Engineering Schools in Australia (5 Star QS ranking for excellence in research in the world*) the School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW is a leader in fundamental and applied research. With modern facilities, nine research centres and groups working in the areas of Chemical, Food Science and Biomolecular and Process Engineering research, the School of Chemical Engineering is a vibrant environment.  The School is at the forefront of today’s most exciting technological advancements, offering local and international students‡ the very best research training.

We have a number of opportunities for talented researchers to join our school.

*Source: http://www.top universities.com;  ‡ Min admission requirement applies

Projects are available in the following research areas:



Bioengineering and Health

Project Title: Biopolymer-based Nanomaterials for Applications in Drug Delivery and Catalysis

Protein nanoparticle - Wichlab - Peter Wich - UNSW

 

Supervisor

Dr Peter R. Wich, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
www.wichlab.com

Project Summary

Nature’s polymers, such as polysaccharides and proteins show a remarkable versatility as multifunctional materials. They can be easily modified with the toolkit of bioorganic chemistry and are particularly attractive because of their degradability and biocompatibility. Since they are structurally well-defined biopolymers they can be used for the formation of multifunctional nanomaterials, for example for the delivery of therapeutic drugs or being part of advanced molecular machines. The open PhD project will focus on the preparation of biopolymer-based nanomaterials using various chemistry and nano/biotechnological approaches. 

Polysaccharide nanoparticle - Wichlab - Peter Wich - UNSW

Key techniques (projects can be adjusted based on interest and experience): organic chemistry, biochemistry, bioconjugation methods, nanoparticle preparation, bio assays, cell culture 
Environment: The project will be undertaken the Wichlab in the School of Chemical Engineering which is part of the Centre for Advanced Macromolecular Design (CAMD,  www.camd.unsw.edu.au) and the Australian Center for NanoMedicine (ACN, www.acn.unsw.edu.au).

For further information about the Wichlab, please visit:
www.wichlab.com
www.twitter.com/peterwich
www.instagram.com/peterwich

 


Project title: Targeted drug delivery using retrograde transport proteins

Supervisor

Professor Guangzhao MaoEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary

Nanomedicine promises to improve drug bioavailability, pharmacokinetics, and efficacy, all of which can potentially reduce toxicity and side effects of spinal cord injury drugs. This project pursues a novel approach that combines nanotechnology with proven neurobiological principles to selectively release drugs in targeted neurons responsible for respiratory functions. The nanotherapeutic design consists of targeting proteins, chemically conjugated to a nanocarrier, which in turn is chemically conjugated to spinal cord injury drugs. Through the use of retrograde transport proteins, the nanoconjugate is taken up by axon terminals and transported only to respiratory neurons and not to any other neuron centers. The primary objective of the project is to induce functional recovery with a fraction of the systemic dose by the targeted approach using retrograde transport proteins. In addition, we aim to achieve persistent functional recovery after only one injection. Our effort is part of an accelerating trend to translate basic nanoscience discoveries into nanotherapeutic products.

Key techniques: targeted drug delivery, retrograde transport protein, bioconjugation chemistry, nanomaterials characterization, spinal cord injury medicine, translational nanomedicine.

Environment: you will work with Professor Mao and her experienced team of researchers in a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary environment.

For further information please contact Professor Mao


Project title: Charge-transfer complex electrochemistry for integrated sensing

Supervisor

Professor Guangzhao MaoEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary

Nanowire sensors promise to be the next generation building block for ultra-sensitive and ultra-selective detection of chemical species. However, transitioning nanowire sensors from the laboratory into economical devices has proven problematic. Current manufacturing processes do not scale well in terms of precision, consistency, and yield, and are too expensive to justify commercial development. There is a critical unmet need for enabling technologies for precision manufacturing of nanosensor devices. The overall goal of the project is to synthesize nanowire crystals of charge-transfer salts (CTS-NWs) directly on electronic substrates by seed-mediated electrocrystallization for precision manufacturing of nanosensor devices. We hypothesize that CTS-NWs will nucleate and grow on the nanoelectrodes and their size and morphology will be controlled by those of the electrodes. The specific objectives are: (1) to evaluate the effect of electrode size on the electrocrystallization of CTS-NWs; (2) to study the electrocrystallization of CTS-NWs using faceted metal nanoparticles as nucleation seeds; and (3) to demonstrate precision manufacturing of CTS-NW sensors using seed-mediated electrocrystallization on patterned nanoelectrodes.

Key techniques: seed-mediated nucleation, nano-electrochemistry, microelectrodes, charge-transfer salt crystallization, nanomaterials characterization, chemical sensors.

Environment: you will work with Professor Mao and her experienced team of researchers in a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary environment.

For further information please contact Professor Mao.

 


Project title: Multifunctional bioactive nanoparticles for disease diagnosis and treatment

Dr Zi (Sophia) Gu | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary

Nanotechnology has emerged as a promising approach for precision diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases. Towards the aim of developing safe and efficacious nanoparticle systems, my group utilises interdisciplinary approaches that bring together material chemistry, biomedical engineering and nanotechnology to synthesise functional nanoparticles, optimise their biomedical properties, and develope smart nanoparticles and advanced delivery strategies. There are three major interests of our research:

Research interest 1: Targeted, controlled and selective drug delivery system
Developing advanced drug delivery systems where nanoparticles are able to target the specific biological site, and function as both drug carriers and drug precursors, which not only transport the loaded drug molecules to the targeted biological site, but also ensure that the nanoparticles do not damage normal tissues until reaching the target, thereby minimizing the toxicity to normal tissues and maximizing the therapeutic efficacy.

Research interest 2: Bioimaging probe/contrast agent design
Developing smart nanoparticles to detect and monitor pathological processes in the disease environment.

Research interest 3: Multifunctional bioactive nanoparticles
Developing inorganic nanoparticles with multiple and state-of-the-art therapeutic and diagnostic modalities.

 



Clean Energy Technologies

Project Title: Understanding Structure/Function Relationships in Reactive Nanomaterials for the Generation of Alternative Energy

Supervisor:
Dr Nicholas Bedford, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summarybedford research image

The properties and behaviors of every single material is directly dictated by the chemistry of its atoms and the arrangement of these atoms in 3D space. The importance of structure and how it relates to properties is universally acknowledged in the field of catalysis. Yet despite the recognized importance of the so-called “structure-function” relationship, methods for systematically understanding the nature of these reactive structural motifs are often ignored. As a result, much of the new developments in catalysts are usually serendipitous, impeding technological progress due to a lack of rational design rules for making new materials. Our research group aims to course-correct for status-quo materials development by combining creative synthetic techniques with new methodologies for indentifying and subsequently engineering atomic-scale catalytic structural motifs in nanoscale catalyst using advanced characterization techniques. Synchrotron radiation characterization is central to the efforts in this project, wherein a student is expected to participate in experiments at synchrotron facilities worldwide.

Key techniques: Materials synthesis techniques are flexible to the student’s skillsets and interests. Our group specialized in bio-inspired techniques, multi-metallic nanomaterials and 2D layered materials, but are eager to expand into other areas. Catalytic applications are also flexible, although the group is currently focused on electrocatalytic reactions geared toward alternative energy constructs. Although previous synchrotron expertise is not required, a desire to participate in experiments, process data, and build nanoparticle structure models is a must. 

Environment: The project will be undertaken with the Bedford Research Group in the School of Chemical Engineering which is part of the Particle and Catalysis Research Group
For further information, please visit:
www.bedfordresearchgroup.com
www.instagram.com/bedfordresearchgroup
www.pcrg.unsw.edu.au


Project Title: Multifunctional carbon-based electrocatalysts for energy conversion and storage

Supervisor:
Prof. Liming Dai, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary

Owing to the high earth-abundance, eco-friendliness, high electrical conductivity, structural tunability at the atomic/morphological levels, good stability under harsh conditions, and free from metal dissolution and poisoning, carbon nanomaterials have become promising advanced metal-free catalysts for high-performance renewable energy technologies.

The recent research and development of carbon-based metal-free electrocatalysts (C-MFECs) have opened up new research areas for multifunctional electrocatalysis of oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) in fuel cells, ORR and oxygen evolution reaction (OER) in metal-air batteries, and OER and hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) for overall water-splitting. This open PhD project will focus on the new fundamentals governing the multifunctional metal-free carbon electrocatalysis, and the breakthroughs that enable C-MFECs as metal-free multifunctional electroctrocatalysts for various energy-related reactions even beyond the ORR, OER, and HER. This project covers the structure design and synthesis, multifunctional electrocatalysis mechanism, and potential applications of the C-MFECs in clean energy conversion and storage, chemical conversion, and environmental protection.

Key techniques and contribution: (projects can be adjusted based on interest and experi-ence) Carbon nanomaterial synthesis, chemical vapor deposition growth of carbon nanotubes/graphene, and device assembling for energy conversion and storage. This project is designed to gain a deep understanding of metal-free carbon-based electrocatalysis and to develop original synthetic methods for the development of metal-free advanced carbon-based electrocatalysts of practical significance.

Environment: All facilities necessary for the research are available in my group and at the School of Chemical Engineering, which will support the smooth progress of the project. The fabrication and characterization tools, such as chemical vapor deposition, sputter coater, plasma reactor, electrochemical testing unit, scanning electron microscope (SEM), thermogravimetric/differential analysis (TG/DTA), Ultraviolet/Visible spectroscopy (UV/vis), Photoluminescence spectroscopy (PL), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), gas chromatography (GC) are available in my lab. Transmission electron microscope (TEM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic spectrometer (XPS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), Atomic force microscopy (AFM), Attenuated Total Reflectance (ATR), Raman spectroscopy, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy, Inductively coupled plasma (ICP), X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF), scanning probe microscope (SPM), and high-performance liquid chromatography (HLC) are readily available at UNSW.


Project Title: Identification of catalytic sites and mechanisms in carbon-based nanomaterials for electrochemical reactions

Supervisor:
Dr Liming Dai, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary

Carbon-based metal-free catalysts are extensively exploited as promising heterogeneous electrocatalysts for a variety of reactions related to renewable energy technologies. Through proper chemical doping, structural engineering and morphological tuning to tailor the properties of carbon nanomaterials, remarkable electrocatalytic activities have been achieved for oxygen reduction reaction, overall water splitting, and carbon dioxide reduction. However, it is still a big challenge to understand the active site structure and detailed catalytic mechanism. Therefore, identifying the origin of electrochemical activity on these carbon-based catalysts will be critical to designing superior catalytic materials and further improving their performance. The open PhD project will focus on the preparation of structure well-defined carbon materials, as well as the use of in-situ and ex-situ experimental techniques to determine the active site structures of carbon-based metal-free catalysts.

Key techniques: (projects can be adjusted based on interest and experi¬ence) Chemical vapor deposition, micro-device fabrication, electrochemical measurements, electron or scanning probe microscopy, spectroscopic tools for in-situ characterization.

Environment: The fabrication and characterization tools, such as chemical vapor deposition, sputter coater, plasma reactor, electrochemical testing unit, scanning electron microscope (SEM), thermogravimetric/differential analysis (TG/DTA), Ultraviolet/Visible spectroscopy (UV/vis), Photoluminescence spectroscopy (PL), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), gas chromatography (GC) are available in my lab. Transmission electron microscope (TEM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic spectrometer (XPS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), Atomic force microscopy (AFM), Attenuated Total Reflectance (ATR), Raman spectroscopy, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy, Inductively coupled plasma (ICP), X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF), scanning probe microscope (SPM), and high-performance liquid chromatography (HLC) are readily available at UNSW.


Project Title: Carbon Materials based Flexible and Wearable Energy Devices

Supervisor:
Prof. Liming DaiEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW |  https://www.wichlab.com/

Project Summary

Flexible and wearable electronics have shown remarkable attentions due to their unique advantages that can be worn on human body for continuously monitoring human’s physical and physiological status anytime and anywhere. However, most of the developed flexible electronics are still powered by power source with rigid structure, cannot be seamlessly integrated with flexible/wearable electronic devices. Therefore, it is highly desirable to develop flexible and wearable energy conversion and storage devices. Owing to the large surface area, excellent electrical, mechanical, and electrochemical properties, carbon nanomaterials show great promise as flexible electrode materials for wearable energy storage. This PhD project will focus on the fabrication of various high-performance flexible/stretchable energy devices (e.g., batteries, fuel cells, supercapacitors) based on carbon nanomaterials (e.g., graphene, carbon nanotubes).

Key techniques: (projects can be adjusted based on interest and experi¬ence) electrochemistry, device fabrication, energy storage and conversion, carbon nanomaterials preparation and characterization.

Environment: All the facilities necessary for the research are available in my group in the School of Chemical Engineering at UNSW, which will support the smooth progress of the project. The fabrication and characterization tools, such as chemical vapor deposition system, sputter coater, plasma reactor, electrochemical testing unit, scanning electron microscope (SEM), thermogravimetric/differential analysis units (TG/DTA), Ultraviolet/Visible spectroscopy (UV/vis), Photoluminescence spectroscopy (PL), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), gas chromatography (GC) are available in my lab. Transmission electron microscope (TEM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic spectrometer (XPS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), Atomic force microscopy (AFM), Attenuated Total Reflectance (ATR), Raman spectroscopy, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy, Inductively coupled plasma (ICP), X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF), scanning probe microscope (SPM), and high-performance liquid chromatography (HLC) are readily available at UNSW.


Project Title: Carbon-based absorbent material for environmental remediation

Supervisor:
Dr Zhaojun Han, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particles and Catalysis Research Group (PartCat) website

Project Summary

The combined property of large surface area and superoleophilicity/superhydrophobicity of nanomaterials is highly desirable for removing contaminants in environmental remediation. This project aims to develop carbon-based absorbent material such as activated carbon or graphene foams which can selectively remove oil or organic waste from water at a high capacity. The carbon-based material will also be synthesized from waste carbon-containing precursors (such as coffee ground), thus completing the carbon cycle in the environment. The open PhD project will include, but not limited to, the following activities:

  • Conversion of waste carbon precursor into carbon-based absorbent material
  • Removal of oil or organic contaminants using carbon-based absorbent material
  • Structural investigation and environment evaluation of carbon-based absorbent material

Key techniques: (projects can be adjusted based on interest and experi¬ence) carbon nanomaterial, absorbent, environmental remediation, superoleophilicity, superhydrophobicity


Project Title: Hydrogen production with high-density single-atom catalyst (SAC)

Supervisor:
Dr Zhaojun Han, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particles and Catalysis Research Group (PartCat) website

Project Summary

Single-atom catalyst (SAC) for hydrogen generation via the electrochemical route has attracted large interest in recent years. However, the mass loading of SAC is often limited to a low level, hindering the overall hydrogen production rate in the electrochemical system. Increasing the precursor concentration during the preparation of SAC does not simply lead to a high loading as single atoms tend to form metal clusters or nanoparticles owing to the strong metal-metal interactions. This PhD project aims to use catalyst support materials, especially carbon nanomaterials, to improve the mass loading of SAC in electrochemical hydrogen generation. The project will focus on (i) engineering the defective or other anchoring sites on carbon supports for SACs, (ii) studying the catalytic performance of high-loading SACs in the water splitting process for hydrogen generation, and (iii) investigating the underlying mechanism of active sites using theoretical methods such as density functional theory (DFT).

Key techniques: (projects can be adjusted based on interest and experi¬ence) single-atom catalyst, hydrogen production, carbon nanomaterials, water splitting, density functional theory


Project Title: Ion kinetics in electrochemical energy conversion and storage process

Supervisor:
Dr Zhaojun Han, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particles and Catalysis Research Group (PartCat) website

Project Summary

Using experimental techniques to observe ion kinetics and mass transport at real-time could provide an extra dimension of understanding the electrochemical processes, thereby leading to the development of more efficient energy conversion and storage systems. This project will use electrochemical quartz crystal microbalance (EQCM) as a powerful technique to investigate the dynamics of ion and mass transport. EQCM measures the shift in resonant frequency of quartz crystals, which can then be correlated to the mass change on the surface. As such, the amount of ions or reaction intermediates inserted into or departed from the electrode can be probed at a high sensitivity. The project will include

  • preparation of a range of noble and transition metal catalysts
  • evaluation of electrocatalytic HER and OER performances
  • analyses of real-time electrocatalytic processes by EQCM
  • understanding of electrocatalytic processes combined with theoretical simulations

Key techniques: (projects can be adjusted based on interest and experience) EQCM, energy storage, energy conversion, carbon, catalysis


Project title: Technologies for the storage and use of hydrogen as a clean energy vector

Supervisor 

Associate Professor Francois Aguey-Zinsou, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW Magnesium borohydride nanoparticles for hydrogen storage
MERLIN research group website 

Hydrogen is the ultimate energy carrier. It has the highest energy density of all fuels. It can be readily produced from water and its combustion in a fuel cell or in an engine leads to its own feedstock, i.e. pure water. However, to date the use of hydrogen is limited by the lack of technologies to enable its storage with high density.

In our group we are developing advanced materials to this aim and the associated technologies of fuel cell and water electrolysis to enable the full penetration of hydrogen in the energy sector. Our expertise not only lies in fundamental research but also the translation of our findings in hydrogen based prototypes. Accordingly, we are offering a range of projects along:

  • Fundamental research to fast track the development of advanced hydrogen storage materials based on complex hydrides including borohydrides and aluminium hydrides;
  • Fundamental research in the development of advanced catalytic materials and membranes to decrease the cost of fuel cell;
  • Fundamental research in the development of advanced electrode materials for water splitting for the production of hydrogen;
  • Applied research in the development advanced hydrogen canisters for effective heat management and recovery, novel fuel cell architectures, and advanced hydrogen catalytic combustion methods;
  • Applied research in the development and optimisation of hydrogen based prototypes of industrial scale but also for consumer goods (e.g. portable electronic, bicycles, etc.);
  • Applied research in the development of effective electronic interfaces for the integration of electrolysers, hydrogen storage canister and fuel cells.

 


Project title: Advanced battery nanotechnologies Advanced battery nanotechnologies

Supervisor

Dr Da-Wei WangEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 

Batteries are diversified. We enjoy playing with many enabling nanotechnologies to make better batteries that are cheaper, greener, safer, and smarter for the future diversified demands. This is a cross-disciplinary area. All candidates with chemistry, physics, materials, or engineering backgrounds are welcome to apply.


Project title: Two-dimensional organic-inorganic materials

Two-dimensional organic-inorganic materials


Supervisor:

Dr Da-Wei WangEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 

Rational bottom-up design of novel two-dimensional (2D) organic-inorganic materials include the synthesis, but not limited to, metal-organic frameworks, layered intercalation compound, etc. The exciting combination of responsive organic and inorganic substances gives birth to unique electronic, optic, chemical and mechanical properties. This class of 2D materials will have remarkable impact on a range of advanced technologies from energy to environment. Some of the materials may eventually lead to transformative advancements.


Project title: Single-cluster electrocatalysis for electrical energy storage
Single-cluster electrocatalysis for electrical energy storage

Supervisor

Dr Da-Wei WangEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 

Electrocatalysis has broad impact on energy, environment and sensing. In the age of energy crisis, we particularly devote to making the storage of electrical energy more effective in the form of various chemicals, such as hydrogen, oxygen, or ammonium. Here, the core is electrocatalysis.

Electrocatalysis relies on active sites. Reducing nanoparticles to single atom does not necessarily mean better activity or selectivity. There are many reasons behind this; one obvious phenomenon is that the active sites sometimes can be bigger than a single atom. Identifying the real active sites and developing effective protocols to produce and stabilize the ‘single’ ‘isolated’ active sites, - single cluster-, should be more reliable in terms of advancing catalyst design.  


Project title: 3D printing approaches for electrochemical conversion of nitrogen to ammonia

Supervisor:
Scientia Prof Rose Amal, Email | Dr Ali Jalili, Email School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particle and Catalysis Research Group website

Project SummaryAdditive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is a family of techniques that enable the fabrication of a solid object from a computer- aided design (CAD). 3D printing is becoming increasingly dominant in the field of advanced material processing and applications. Many of the traditional techniques tend to be time consuming and complex, requiring specialist equipment and training, as well as being hard to reproduce. Consequently, manufacturing costs escalate with increasing design complexity, making iterative designs financially wasteful and part- production times lengthy. On the other hand, 3D printing provides materials chemists and engineers with the ability to design, prototype and print geometrically complex functional devices that integrate electroactive, photoactive and catalytic functionalities. This, in principle, will allow precise manipulation of the structure and geometry of a device to define and control its final performance in various applications including electrochemical conversion of nitrogen to ammonia.

From nurturing living organisms to feeding billions of people, the transformation of nitrogen to ammonia is essential for many eco-systems and industrial processes. However, the industrial production of ammonia is very energy intensive (2% of global energy consumption), requiring high temperature (500◦C) and pressure (in excess of 500 atmospheres), and very pure raw materials; it is also eco-destructive (creating more than 900 million tonnes of CO2 by-product per year), costly and requires considerable plant infrastructure. As such, there is an immediate need to develop alternative green and cost-effective processes for ammonia production. On the other hand, ammonia can be produced at room temperature by electrochemical synthesis. However, at present, there is no synthetic heterogeneous electrocatalyst that can produce NH3 in significant yields. Recent advances in designing electrocatalysts and methods for conversion of nitrogen to ammonia demand for 3D printing approaches to integrate electrocatalysts into high-performance devices. Building on their development, this PhD project will focus on fabrication and testing of novel 3D structures containing electrocatalysts for ammonia production and development of selective and high-performance devices.

Research Environment: The student working on this project will be working in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory (PARTCAT), a leading catalysis research group in Australia lead by Scientia Professor Rose Amal and jointly supervised by Dr Ali Jalili. To achieve this goal, the group also actively collaborates with different groups such as Prof Doug Macfarlane group in Monash University. The students will have access to state-of-the-art experimentation facilities, mentoring opportunities and fun and nurturing working environment to gain necessary expertise facilitating their career in industry or academic research.

Top up scholarship is available. Please inquiry within.


Project title: Atomically thin two-dimensional (2D) materials for electrochemical conversion of nitrogen to ammonia

Supervisor:Scientia Prof Rose Amal, Email | Dr Ali Jalili, Email School of Chemical Engineering,
UNSW Particle and Catalysis Research Group website

Project Summary
Ammonia (NH3) production via the Haber–Bosch process was one of the key achievements of the 20th century, enabling quadrupling the production of agricultural products and acting as a preventive measure to stop world hunger. It is estimated that between a third to a half of the world population would suffer starvation if ammonia-based fertilisers were not available. Ammonia is also an excellent indirect hydrogen-storage material as it is more energy efficient to produce, store, and deliver hydrogen as ammonia than as compressed and/or cryogenic hydrogen. Ammonia is also seen as an eco-friendly energy source for a sustainable energy future as it can be synthesised directly from atmospheric nitrogen and does not produce CO2 during burning. However, the industrial production of ammonia is very energy intensive (2% of global energy consumption), requiring high temperature (500◦C) and pressure (in excess of 500 atmospheres), and very pure raw materials; it is also eco-destructive (creating more than 900 million tonnes of CO2 by-product per year), costly and requires considerable plant infrastructure. As such, there is an immediate need to develop alternative green and cost-effective processes for ammonia production. Ammonia can be produced at room temperature by electrochemical synthesis. However, all of the state-of-art systems have common limitations such as slow kinetics of the transformation, expensive electrolytes, high pressure & temperature (to increase the kinetics), poor selectivity, low conversion rate and low Faradaic efficiency. Building on this foundation, atomically thin two-dimensional (2D) materials such as graphene will be studied over this PhD project for an efficient electrochemical reduction of nitrogen to ammonia.

Research Environment: The student working on this project will be working in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory (PARTCAT), a leading catalysis research group in Australia lead by Scientia Professor Rose Amal and jointly supervised by Dr Ali Jalili. To achieve this goal, the group also actively collaborates with different groups such as Prof Doug Macfarlane group in Monash University. The students will have access to state-of-the-art experimentation facilities, mentoring opportunities and fun and nurturing working environment to gain necessary expertise facilitating their career in industry or academic research.

Top up scholarship is available. Please inquiry within.


Project title: Computational materials design of catalytic materials

Supervisor:
Dr Priyank Kumar, Email | Scientia Prof Rose Amal, Email School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particle and Catalysis Research Group website

Project Summary
Plasmonic nanostructures offer a platform to utilize sunlight to carry out chemical reactions. However, the efficiency and selectivity of such catalysts remain poor. The group uses density functional theory (DFT) and time-dependent DFT (TDDFT) methods to understand these issues and design efficient plasmonic catalysts. Calculations are performed in experimental collaboration with the PARTCAT group at UNSW, led by Prof. Rose Amal.

Research Environment: The student working on this project will be working in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory (PARTCAT), a leading catalysis research group in Australia lead by Scientia Professor Rose Amal and also the computational materials group in the school of chemical engineering at UNSW Sydney, led by Dr. Priyank V. Kumar , aims to develop material solutions in the areas of renewable energy, water and health-care through the application of atomistic computational techniques. To achieve this goal, the group actively collaborates with different experimental groups across UNSW and around the globe. The students will have access to state-of-the-art experimentation facilities, mentoring opportunities and fun and nurturing working environment to gain necessary expertise facilitating their career in industry or academic research.

Top up scholarship is available. Please inquiry within.


Project title: Machine learning-augmented high-throughput catalyst design for NH3 synthesis

Supervisor:
Scientia Prof Rose Amal, Email | Dr Emma Lovell, Email | Dr Hassan Massood, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particle and Catalysis Research Group website

Project Summary
Haber–Bosch process is a key industrial advancement in terms of NH3 synthesis. The process involves reaction between N2 and H2 feed streams at high pressure and temperature over Fe-based catalyst. Major thermodynamic incentives of energy efficiency and production economics are driving the research towards the development of novel catalysts which are capable of conducting the reaction at moderate temperatures and pressures. Designing a novel catalyst, to enhance the rate of a chemical reaction, is a challenging task which requires significant experimental work. Conventionally, discovery and optimization of new catalysts is done intuitively with time consuming trail-and-error based approaches. The recent progressions in machine learning and high-throughput platforms have made it possible to rapidly screen broader spectrum of materials and identification of relevant features contributing to the targeted reactions facilitating catalyst design and discovery. Moreover, processing of big volumes of data libraries is now viable, with the improvements in computational algorithms, allowing formulation of predictive models leading to systematic process optimisations and understanding of reaction mechanisms.

The current PhD project overlays a broader perspective from catalyst screening towards process optimisation. The preliminary component of the project requires data generation by a combination of high-throughput screening experiments, characterizations, and data mining from literature. Subsequently, unsupervised machine learning techniques will be utilised to capture unique patterns in the data targeted towards high reactivity of lattice N2 in metal nitrides catalyst structure signifying activity in the reaction. Relevant materials will be sorted and tested for NH3 synthesis with reinforcement learning based optimiser directing the experimentation process to achieve input parameters leading to optimum process efficacy with minimum experimentation runs. Data libraries generated from this study will be extended by mapping with quantum chemistry simulations, and subsequently be used to train machine learning models with enhanced predictive capability aiding further research in this area.

Research Environment: The student working on this project will be working in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory (PARTCAT), a leading catalysis research group in Australia lead by Scientia Professor Rose Amal and jointly supervised by Dr Hassan Massood and Dr Emma Lovell. The students will have access to state-of-the-art experimentation facilities, mentoring opportunities and fun and nurturing working environment to gain necessary expertise facilitating their career in industry or academic research.

Top up scholarship is available. Please inquiry within.


Project title: Seawater electrolysis for simultaneous chlorine and hydrogen production

Supervisor:
Scientia Prof Rose Amal, Email | Dr Xunyu Lu, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particle and Catalysis Research Group website

Project Summary
Water electrolysis has emerged to be an appealing solution to generate hydrogen (H2) from the ubiquitous seawater. By coupling with a renewable electricity source (like photovoltaic cells), a sustainable energy conversion and storage system could be fabricated to efficiently convert the abundant but diffusive renewable energy sources (e.g. solar energy) into portable chemical fuels (such as H2). However, the efficiency of water electrolysis is impeded by the sluggish 4-proton-coupled oxygen evolution reaction (OER) on its anode, making the practical application of this system far from reality. Chloride oxidation to chlorine is a potential alternative to water oxidation to oxygen as Cl− is a major component of seawater. Notably, seawater is 97% of Earth’s water supply and contains >3% by weight of NaCl (550 mM). As a 2-electron-invloved reaction process, Cl− oxidation is 45% less demanding energetically, with ΔG° = 2.72 eV, compared to ΔG° = 4.92 eV for H2O oxidation. Chlorine gas is used in a wide variety of applications, including in production of construction materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), in organic synthesis, in metallurgy, and in water treatment.

The aim of the project is to focus on the fabrication of robust and efficient working electrodes (based on earth abundant elements such as first row transition metal and carbon) for electrochemical seawater splitting to simultaneously produce Cl2 and H2 gases. The chemical compositions, catalyst structures as well as electrode configurations will be carefully tuned and optimized to boost the energy efficiency and stability of the electrodes in seawater, and eventually reach a solar-to-chemical conversion efficiency > 10%.

Research Environment: The student working on this project will be working in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory (PARTCAT), a leading catalysis research group in Australia lead by Scientia Professor Rose Amal and jointly supervised by Dr Xunyu Lu. The students will have access to state-of-the-art experimentation facilities, mentoring opportunities and fun and nurturing working environment to gain necessary expertise facilitating their career in industry or academic research.

Top up scholarship is available. Please inquiry within.

References:
Related published article: Energy and Environmental Science (EES), 2018, 11, 1898-1910


Project title: Solar energy utilisation for direct CO2 reduction to sustainable fuel

Supervisor:
Scientia Prof Rose Amal, Email | Dr Jian Pan, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Particle and Catalysis Research Group website

Project Summary
Anthropogenic CO2 emission is occurring at a rate that is outpacing nature’s carbon cycle. Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion were approximately 31 Gigaton in 2009 and are likely to rise to 57 Gigaton in 2050.[1] The overproduction of CO2 is believed to be a major contributor to some undesirable environmental changes, such as global warming, desertification, ocean acidification, etc.[2] Therefore, alleviating the detrimental environmental effects caused by CO2 emission has become a demanding issue in modern society.

CO2 reduction is an ideal method not only to alleviate CO2 emission but also to overcome the energy crisis. The ideal solution is to capture and convert CO2 into small organic molecules with improved energy density, such as carbon monoxide (CO), formic acid, methanol, methane, and so on. [3] And CO2 is one of the most stable molecules. A high activation barrier must be conquered for the transformation of CO 2 and one of the best external sources to overcome this barrier is solar energy.

The aim of this project is to directly use solar energy and/or electric power obtained from solar energy to convert CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels.

Research Environment: The student working on this project will be working in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory (PARTCAT), a leading catalysis research group in Australia lead by Scientia Professor Rose Amal and jointly supervised by Dr Jian Pan. The students will have access to state-of-the-art experimentation facilities, mentoring opportunities and fun and nurturing working environment to gain necessary expertise facilitating their career in industry or academic research.

Novelty: Unlike the previous research on CO2 reduction, the proposed project will integrate the advantages of photocatalysis and electrocatalysis, also generate new fundamental knowledge of the reaction mechanism and develop efficient catalysts for future applications.

Expected Outcome: The student is expected to: design and build a photo-electro-catalytic CO2 reduction system; develop Metal-based heterostructure catalysts with high activity, stability and favourable product selectivity through facet engineering; reveal the mechanism of CO2/H2O reduction on the surface of photocatalysts and electrocatalysts to understand the synergistic effects of the photo and electrocatalytic CO2 reduction reactions; and obtain the optimal reaction process of CO2 reduction to produce favourable chemicals with a high kinetics and conversion rate.

Top up scholarship is available. Please inquiry within.

Reference:

  1. Dimitriou, I., Garcia-Gutierrez, P., Elder, R. H., et al., Energ Environ Sci, 2015, 8, 1775-1789.
  2. Lim, R. J., Xie, M. S., Sk, M. A., et al., Catal Today, 2014, 233, 169-180.
  3. Habisreutinger, S. N., Schmidt-Mende, L. and Stolarczyk, J. K., Angew Chem Int Edit, 2013, 52, 7372-7408.

Project title: Techno-economic Feasibility of Power to X Pathway in Australia

Supervisor:
Scientia Professor Rose Amal | Dr. Rahman Daiyan | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW | Associate Professor Iain MacGill | School of Electrical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary:
The great renewables potential of Australia presents the country with great opportunity to take advantage of utilizing sunshine to valuable fuel and feedstocks at scale and low-cost. This ‘excess’ solar capacity can be used to power technologies that are capable of converting waste CO2 to methane, syngas, oxyhydrocarbons; waste-water/seawater into hydrogen; air into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2>) and ammonia. This open PhD project will investigate the economics and sustainability of generating these valuable products using renewable power and determine strategies and policies needed to facilitate commercialization of these technologies. A component of the project would be carried out in collaboration with industry.

Key techniques: technoeconomic modelling, life cycle assessment, process design, system optimization, integration of gas and electricity market.

Environment: The students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities, mentoring opportunities and fun and nurturing working environment to gain necessary expertise facilitating their career in industry or academic research. The project will be based at Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratories in the School of Chemical Engineering.

 


Project title: Nanofluidic energy technology

Supervisor:
Associate professor Da-Wei Wang, Email: da-wei.wang@unsw.edu.au | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary:
Efficient energy storage technologies with high energy and power densities are imperative for the rapid development of portable electronic devices, electrical vehicles, and emerging renewable power grids. This project will be commissioned to create nanofluidic materials to maximize the energy and power densities of electrochemical energy storage devices including batteries and supercapacitors. Nanofluidic materials are featured with intrinsic nanofluids confined within the interlayer structure, which enable the fast charge intercalation into the electrode bulk during electrochemical reactions. The following research activities will be included:

  • Exploration of efficient techniques for fluid modulation in nanofluidic materials.
  • Investigation of charge transfer dynamics in nanofluidic materials using various characterization techniques.
  • Development and assessment of electrochemical energy storage devices using the nanofluidic materials.

Research Environment: This project will be undertaken in PartCat research group in the School of Chemical Engineering. This project aligns with the research strength at UNSW in the area of “Next Generation Materials and Technology”. This will offer a great opportunity for the students to collaborate with other experts in energy research.

Novelty and Contribution: The practical contribution of this project on the next-generation energy storage devices is of great significance. New methodologies will be developed for the nanofluidic material fabrication. New insights will be offered to the electrochemistry, kinetics, and charge transfer dynamics of the charge storage mechanisms in the nanofluidic energy technology.

 


Project title: Solid-state energy technology

Supervisor:
Associate professor Da-Wei Wang, Email: da-wei.wang@unsw.edu.au | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary:
Demands for safe and efficient energy storage necessitate the development of solid-state energy technologies. Developing solid-state electrolyte with high ionic conductivity and good interfacial compatibility with the electrodes are the key challenges. This project focuses on developing new solid-state electrolytes for high-performance solid-state energy storage devices. The following research activities will be included:

  • Design and synthesis solid-state electrolyte materials with high ionic conductivity.
  • Investigation of ion transfer kinetic properties of the solid-state electrolyte.
  • Optimization of the electrode/electrolyte interfacial compatibility in solid-state energy storage devices.

Research Environment: This project will be undertaken in PartCat research group in the School of Chemical Engineering. This project aligns with the research strength at UNSW in the area of “Next Generation Materials and Technology”. This will offer a great opportunity for the students to collaborate with other experts in energy research.

Novelty and Contribution: Substituting solid-state electrolyte for conventional liquid electrolyte is among the most efficient approaches to improve the safety of energy storage devices. New methodologies will be developed for the fabrication of solid-state electrolyte materials. Device engineering protocols will be proposed for evaluation of next-generation solid-state energy storage devices.

 



Food Science and Technology 

Project Title: A new allergen delivery system for food allergy specific epicutaneous immunotherapy

Supervisors:
Associate Professor Alice Lee, alice.lee@unsw.edu.au, Dr Rona Chandrawati, rona.chandrawati@unsw.edu.au and Professor Guangzhao Mao, guangzhao.mao@unsw.edu.au | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project Summary

Oral immunotherapy (OIT) has been shown to be a promising approach to tackle established peanut allergy. However, studies to date using standard allergen extracts or naïve foods have failed to generate high rates of long-term tolerance and have had high and unpredictable side effects, including anaphylaxis. These issues have impacted on food allergy-OIT translations into clinical practice. A safer option for allergic children and patients with high sensitivity would be epicutaneous immunotherapy. Epicutaneous immunotherapy involves rapid uptake of allergenic molecules by skin antigen-presenting cells and transports them to regional lymph nodes.

This PhD project aims to develop a new allergen delivery system with a controlled release for non-invasive, safer and more effective delivery of food allergens to the skin immune system via epicutaneous immunotherapy.

Key techniques: organic chemistry, biochemistry, biotechnology, immunology, immunochemistry, cell culture

Environment: The project will be undertaken the School of Chemical Engineering within Food and Health Cluster.


Project Title: Roles of Peanut and Egg Peptides in Breastmilk to Induce infant Tolerance and Reduce Food Allergy

Supervisors:
Associate Professor Alice Lee, alice.lee@unsw.edu.au | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW; Associate Professor Debbie Palmer (Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia)

Project Summary

Breastfeeding is one of the factors that could influence food allergy development. These include potentially anti-allergic immune properties in the milk, the possibility that prolonged breastfeeding may delay allergen introduction, but also the presence of antibodies within breast milk that may combine with food antigens to induce tolerance. Yet the role of maternal immune responses in desensitisation and tolerance induction is still poorly understood.

As part of the BENEFIT and PrEggNut projects, this Ph.D. project aims to investigate the role of maternal immune responses in peanut and egg allergy desensitisation (or peanut and egg allergy development), including developing an analytical method to detect and quantify peanut and egg peptides in breastmilk at trace levels.

Key techniques: Protein chemistry/ biochemistry, biotechnology, mass spectrometry, bioinformatics, immunology, immunochemistry, cell culture

Research Environment: The Trials will be conducted in Perth at the Joondalup Health Campus and Telethon Kids Institute at the Perth Children’s Hospital and analysis of samples will be conducted the Food and Allergy Research Group in the School of Chemical Engineering.


Project Title: Developing monitoring and predictive tools for peanut allergy-immunotherapy

Supervisors:
Associate Professor Alice Leealice.lee@unsw.edu.au | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW; Professor Dianne Campbell, Children’s Hospital at Westhead

Project Summary

Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is a promising approach to tackle established peanut allergy. However, studies to date using standard allergen extracts or naïve foods have failed to generate high rates of long-term tolerance following cessation of therapy and have had high and unpredictable side effects, some of which include anaphylaxis. These issues have impacted on food allergy-OIT translations into clinical practice.

Using adjuvants to enhance regulatory effects of OIT and to drive transient desensitisation to more sustained tolerant responses has shown promising results. We currently have a three-arm, placebo-controlled RCT underway at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, which examines the potential of short-chain fatty acids (SFCA) as an adjuvant in peanut OIT; the OPIA study.

The Ph.D. project aims to investigate the specific mechanisms of action of the therapy and the ability to predict responses to therapy. It will focus on developing an understanding of pivotal allergen-specific antibody responses across the course of the IT, and identify factors that can predict response to therapy.

Key techniques: Protein chemistry/ biochemistry, molecular allergology, biotechnology, bioinformatics, immunological techniques, cell culture

Environment: OPIA trial is being conducted in the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and analysis will be conducted in the Food and Allergy Research Group in the School of Chemical Engineering. This project provides an opportunity for a student to interact and work with a diverse group of project investigators.


Cellular Agriculture

1. Project title: Replacing Traditional Cell Culture Supplements with Plant-Based Alternatives for Cellular Agriculture.

Supervisor:
Prof Johannes le Coutre |  School of Chemical Engineering | UNSW

Project summary

Traditional biological supplements used in mammalian cell culture include fetal calf serum and expensive, high-carbon footprint, recombinant proteins that are used to promote the growth rates of cultured cells. One of the goals of the global cellular agriculture field is to identify alternative compounds with attractive carbon footprints to these traditional additives. This project will focus on using plant-based materials as the source of these compounds. The PhD project will aim to combine the chemical engineering processes of plant material extraction, with the biochemical methods of primary mammalian cell culture to achieve this goal.

2. Project title: Identifying Alternative Biomaterials to be used as Scaffolds for In Vitro 3D Muscle Cell Culture.

Supervisor:
Prof Johannes le Coutre | School of Chemical Engineering | UNSW

Project summary

The field of cellular agriculture and in vitro meat production is an emerging solution to growing global concerns regarding resource use by traditional agriculture practices. A major obstacle for this research is the identification of low carbon biomaterials that can provide a suitable support network for cultured muscle cells to form a 3D structure. This project will test the potential of various plant-based materials to provide attachment sites and mechanical support to muscle cells in culture.

3. Project title: Controlling Growth and Differentiation of Animal Muscle Cells without Genetic Modification.

Supervisor:
Prof Johannes le Coutre |  School of Chemical Engineering | UNSW

Project summary

The field of cellular agriculture and in vitro meat production is an emerging solution to growing global concerns regarding resource use by traditional agriculture practices. A major obstacle for this technology is the control of growth and differentiation rates of meat forming muscle cells in culture. Traditional biological supplements used in cell culture include expensive, high-carbon footprint fetal calf serum and recombinant proteins. One of the goals of the global cellular agriculture field is to identify alternatives to these additives. It is of critical importance that these additives do not rely on genetic modification of the muscle cell itself as we aim to use cultured meat for human consumption. This project will identify non-traditional compounds to control muscle cell growth and differentiation in culture.

Key techniques of the projects: 

  • Mammalian cell culture.
  • Live-cell imaging using the Incucyte S3 system
  • Recombinant protein production.
  • Bioartificial muscle production.
  • Novel mechanical and chemical-based extraction of plant materials.
  • Flow cytometry.
  • Confocal microscopy.
  • Investigation of intracellular signalling pathways.

For further information please contact Prof Johannes le Coutre.


Project title:  Extrusion and Drying

Supervisor

Dr Robert Driscoll, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Extrusion is a food processing technology which can do a wide range of conventional processes all within one piece of equipment. An extruder can shape, expand and texture a product. It can also mix, cook and create pillow structures, very popular with consumers. One thing it can’t do is adequately dry, and so many extruders are combined with some form of dryer equipment, such as fluidisation.  Extrusion and drying Little research has been done into optimal combinations of extrusion / drying. The main variables are the initial product composition (especially moisture), the type of product being made (formed, textured or expanded), energy parameters such as power required per unit mass produced (also called specific mechanical energy), speed of rotation, degree of heating, torque and others. We would like to develop a better understanding of the interaction between the two processes so that we can control them better in commercial practise.

Research Environment: The PhD student will work in the Food Drying Group, using a Brabender KETSE 20/40 laboratory extruder recently purchased for the ARC Industry Hub.

Novelty and Contribution: Twin screw extruders have a complex geometry which is difficult to effectively model, even using high-end techniques such as CFD, simply because of the wide changes in product properties as it changes from a powder to a dough. As a result, little has been done in this area, but its importance to the food industry is very high. Instead of a trial and error approach, we are looking for an intermediate approach, involving practical experimentation plus semi-empirical modelling such as a TOEM approach to improve our understanding in this area.

Expected Outcome: This work will allow industry projects to be developed involving extrusion, so is of great practical importance. In addition development of a new approach to extruder modelling has the prospect of allowing publication.


Project title: Food processing by Radio Frequency Electric Field


Supervisory team 

Dr Francisco Trujillo, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
Dr Dr PJ Cullen, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 

Project summary 

Radio frequency electric fields (RFEF) processing is a new emerging food processing technology that can inactivate photogenic microorganisms  in liquid foods such as apple juice, orange juice and apple cider at moderate sub-pasteurization
 temperatures.  Unlike pasteurisation, where inactivation is achieved thermally, the lethal effect of RFEF is mainly due to high intensity electric fields. Microbial inactivation under RFEF is very fast compared to conventional thermal processing based on conduction and convection.  This allows designing a very efficient process operated at lower temperatures than traditional heat processing.  The problem of heat processing is that high temperature destroys heat sensible compounds. RFEF is able to obtain microbiologically safe foods retaining higher nutritional value and exhibiting better organoleptic properties due to lower processing temperature and time.

The RFEF mechanism of inactivation is electroporation, which is the formation of pores in the cell membrane causing the release of intracellular liquid.  However, the mechanism is not completely elucidated yet.  Besides, scaling up RFEF process is challenging due the complex interaction between the electric field, food material, fluid flow and the heat generated due to ohmic and dielectric heating.  Hence, the aim of this research project is to better understand the complex physical and microbiological phenomena governing RFEF processing of liquid foods.

Research environment: The PhD student will have the opportunity to work within the food processing group and be part of the ARC training centre.

Novelty and Contribution: This is a promising new research area at the frontier of novel food processing technologies. It is part of the search of alternatives to traditional heat processing technologies to achieve food microbiological safety at lower processing temperatures therefore enhancing nutritional value while preserving its organoleptic properties. 

Expected Outcome: It is expected that the successful candidate will participate in international conferences and will publish his/her work in high impact factor journals. This work will expand the capabilities of the student to work in the industry of to continue a research or academic career.


(Expressions of interest) 

Project title: Megasonic assisted extraction of seed oil


Supervisor:
Dr Francisco TrujilloEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 

Project summary 

CSIRO Agriculture and Food now welcomes applications for a PhD top-up scholarship to develop ultrasound based technologies to promote oil recovery in vegetable oil separation process. CSIRO Breakthrough Processing Group now welcomes Expressions of Interest for Top-up Scholarships to PhD students with chemical or food engineering, chemistry or physics background wanting to join an exciting, interdisciplinary team in the priority area of Megasonics. 

 


Project title: Improving the properties of powder products for beverage applications

 

Improving the properties of powder products for beverage applications

Supervisor:
Prof Cordelia Selomulya | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Dr Yong Wang | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Sian Henson | Jacobs Douwe Egbert R&D
Dr. Borja Corrochano | Jacobs Douwe Egbert R&D

Project summary
Powdered products, often produced via spray drying, extend shelf life and ease of transport, and are convenient for consumers. When fat is present in the feed emulsions to spray drying, surface fat tends to be over-represented on the final powders with fat migration taking place during the droplet atomisation process. The presence of surface fat could induce off-flavour due to oxidation, poor wettability, and reduced shelf life of the powders.

JACOBS DOUWE EGBERTS (JDE) Postgraduate Scholarship is available for an outstanding full-time postgraduate candidate to undertake an industry-focused research project. The PhD project aims to understand the relationship between powder properties in relation to those of the feed emulsions and other process conditions, including pre-treatment options. The functions and interactions between proteins, fats, polysaccharides, and other small molecules, affecting colloidal stability of the emulsions and under different conditions, will be identified to improve fat encapsulation of the final product.

The project provides an excellent opportunity for an outstanding full-time postgraduate candidate to solve a real-world challenge in food powder processing. The project will develop new value-added products and innovate current processing methods, in a close partnership with one of the leading beverage companies in the world, Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), the maker of Moccona and many other famous tea and coffee brands.

In addition to research work conducted at the School of Chemical Engineering, the PhD candidate will have the opportunity to undertake an internship at JDE’s R&D Centre in the UK during their candidature. The successful applicant will need to meet the criteria for admission into the Higher Degree Research (Program Code: 1010) at UNSW and is expected to commence their studies by Term 3 of 2020.

Value

Full scholarship for up to 4 years, plus support for industry internship.

Closing Date

30 June 2020

For further information, contact Prof. Cordelia Selomulya.

 


Project title: Towards New Functionality in Dairy Ingredients

 

Supervisor:
Prof Cordelia Selomulya | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Prof Federico Harte | Department of Food Science, Penn State
Prof Xiao Dong Chen | School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Soochow University

Towards New Functionality in Dairy Ingredients

Project summary
The Australian dairy industry plays a significant part in the nation’s economy, with almost $3 billion in export revenue in 2016-2017. Powdered dairy products extend shelf life and ease of transport, with >20% annual growth in premium products, such as milk protein concentrates and infant formula powders. This project aims to support the development of value-added dairy powders by investigating the impact of a novel processing technology in enhancing the properties of dairy powders and/or introducing new functionality. Successful outcomes will help expand the offering of high value dairy ingredients and thus increase the global competitiveness of Australian dairy manufacturing.

PhD scholarships are available for outstanding full-time postgraduate candidates to aid in the development of added-value dairy products by providing insight into the fundamental changes in surface compositions and properties of dairy powders in response to specific pre-treatment of feed emulsions.

One of the projects aims to correlate the changes in dairy emulsion properties under specific pre-treatment conditions (including high pressure jet) on powder functionality, by evaluating the modifications of protein structures, i.e. denaturation, aggregation, and interactions with fat droplets via dose response studies of pressure and protein/fat ratio. The knowledge gained will confirm the proposed hypothesis of the possible cause(s) of changes in functional properties for powders treated with different range of pressures, and potentially introduce a new functionality of the resulting powders.

Another project aims to develop a mechanistic understanding of surface formation on dairy powders by systematically monitoring the migration of solutes (fat, protein, lactose) of different emulsions and utilising the data to model the component distribution during drying. The understanding will contribute to the development of a more accurate model to predict surface-induced property changes of dairy powders.

Successful outcomes will help develop dairy powders with new / improved functionality, such as better encapsulation of fat or by introducing new surface functionality and desired properties relevant to applications (solubility, shelf stability, foamability) after rehydration. The applications can be extended beyond dairy to other food and nutraceutical products.

In addition to research work conducted at the School of Chemical Engineering, the PhD candidates will have the opportunity to conduct part of their research in our partner universities. Successful applicants will need to meet the criteria for admission into the Higher Degree Research (Program Code: 1010) at UNSW and is expected to commence their studies in 2020 - 2021.

Value

Full scholarship for up to 4 years, plus support for research study exchange.

Closing Date for UNSW HDR admission

18 September 2020

For further information, contact Prof. Cordelia Selomulya.

 



Polymer Chemistry 

Project title: Hybrid nanomaterials based on graphene and polymer Schematic illustration of polymeric nanoparticle coated with graphene oxide nanosheets

Supervisor
Professor Per ZetterlundEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
CAMD research centre website

Project summary 

The material graphene was discovered in 2004 (Noble Prize awarded in 2010) – it is the strongest material ever measured, and this is accompanied by a range of other extraordinary physical properties such as high thermal conductivity and high electrical conductivity. Graphene is seen as the material of the future, with the potential to revolutionise a wide range of industries from electronics to healthcare, and there is currently immense worldwide research activity in this area.

The addition of graphene as a component of polymer nanocomposites can result in superior material properties – it is a way of combining “the best of both worlds” (polymer and graphene). However, both pristine graphene and graphene oxide are incompatible with most polymers, and do not form homogeneous polymer composites. This challenge can be overcome by use of aqueous emulsion polymerization techniques. In our group, we are designing and preparing novel polymeric nanocomposites and nanoparticles using graphene/graphene oxide and radical polymerization in environmentally friendly aqueous emulsion-based systems. Our research is leading to a range of novel materials and nanoparticles with potential applications in diverse fields such as the coatings industry and nanomedicine. 


Project title: Polymer nanoparticle synthesis using CO2 – a versatile environmentally friendly approach

Supervisory team
Professor Per ZetterlundEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
CAMD research centre website

Project summary 

Polymeric nanoparticles, i.e. particles with diameters around 100 nm comprising polymer(s), find applications in a wide range of areas, e.g. materials science (coatings) and nanomedicine (drug delivery).   Future challenges in this area of research include synthesis of particles of specific composition/functionality as well as shape and size. In the present project, the aim will be to develop a novel method of polymeric nanoparticle synthesis by use of carbon dioxide.  The cornerstone of the project is the generation of aqueous miniemulsions (organic droplets dispersed in a continuous aqueous phase) by use of compressed carbon dioxide.  It entails the addition of carbon dioxide to a relatively low pressure of approximately 5 MPa to a stirred mixture of oil (e.g. vinyl monomer), water and surfactant, leading to formation of a miniemulsion without application of a high energy mixing device.  Under appropriate conditions, a transparent emulsion is formed, i.e. droplets with radius < 30 nm, and the particle size can be conveniently controlled by the carbon dioxide pressure.  The process holds promise of great versatility, and has been successfully utilized with anionic, cationic and nonionic surfactants, but remains to reach its full potential with regards to synthesis of polymeric nanoparticles. Research Environment: The student will work in the well‐equipped Centre for Macromolecular Design (CAMD) laboratory alongside a large number of postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers, the vast majority of whom are also involved in related research.  This will be an ideal and stimulating environment to learn what research is all about. Novelty and Contribution: Miniemulsion polymerization has long been heralded the technique of the future, but despite this still remains largely unexploited on the industrial level.  The present project will lead to the development of low energy applications of the miniemulsion technology, with additional benefits in terms of easy adjustment of particle size via the carbon dioxide pressure.  As such, the work is anticipated to be of high impact in the area of polymeric nanoparticle synthesis.


Project title: Precisely controlled macromolecules: sustainable synthesis and advanced applications

Supervisory team
Dr Jiangtao (Jason) Xu, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Professor Cyrille BoyerEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW  

Project summary 

TThis project aims to synthesise polymers that have precise chemical structure and mimic the biological activities of natural biopolymers like peptides and proteins. Monomer sequence and stereochemistry regulation in these natural biopolymers is important in biology and necessary for crucial features of life, such as molecular recognition, self-replication and catalysis. Current artificial techniques for biopolymer synthesis are time consuming and present low yields at high costs. This project expects its new materials will increase manufacturing sustainability, chemical diversity and industrial viability; produce health benefits for Australia by improving chemotherapy and diagnosis for diseases; and benefit the Australian economy.


Project title: Green chemistry and processes for renewable polymer manufacturing

Supervisory team

Dr Jiangtao (Jason) XuEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Bio-based polymers are attractive materials to address current global sustainability and to reduce the dependent of modern civilization on petrochemical industry. At present, most of the commercial monomers for industrial polymer manufacturing are petrochemical products which extremely rely on the unsustainable fossil fuel. Development of renewable monomers and their polymers is a high demand objective. This project aims to explore innovative green and sustainable technologies for transforming renewable biomass and abundant feedstocks from natural plants into high valued polymer materials. Meanwhile, this project also aims to harvest solar light by chemical means and utilize photo-energy as energy input for chemical reactions and renewable polymer manufacturing.


Project title: Polymer hydrogel-based soft electronic devices

Supervisory team

Dr Jiangtao (Jason) XuEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Flexible and soft electronic devices have great potentials for various applications in bioelectronic skins, electrochemical supercapacitors, artificial intelligence systems, and human health monitoring. Considerable efforts have been recently devoted to fabricating electrically conductive hydrogels as advanced sensor devices due to their outstanding flexibility, stretchability and self-healing properties. Hydrogels are generally highly absorbent polymer networks that can accommodate large amount of water (more than 90%). With the availability of a broad range of environmentally benign natural or synthetic polymer materials for making the hydrogel networks, hydrogel-based sensor devices offer good biocompatibility for human skins.


Project title: Light for Advanced Polymer Synthesis

 

Supervisor 

Professor Cyrille BoyerEmail  | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW  

CAMD research website

Project summary 

In the past five years, light mediated polymerization has emerged as a powerful method for the preparation of functional polymers, due in part to its temporal and spatial control. In 2014, we developed a novel visible-light mediated polymerization technique, named photoinduced electron/energy transfer – reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer polymerization (PET-RAFT). In this project, we propose to use this technique for the synthesis of 3D functional materials, which will allow control over specific mechanical properties of these 3D objects.  This project will result in the preparation of advanced materials with tuneable mechanical properties.


Project title: Design of Functional Nanoparticles for Precision Medicine

 

Supervisor 
Professor Cyrille BoyerEmail  | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW  

CAMD research website

Project summary 

In the last ten years, new methods have emerged for the synthesis of functional polymers and their assembly into nanoparticles. These polymeric nanoparticles find a broad range of applications as nano-containers for the encapsulation of active and therapeutic compounds. However, the effect of nanoparticle shape has rarely been investigated. In this project, we propose the design of polymeric nanoparticles with precise control of size and shape using visible light. The effect of the size and shape of these polymeric nanoparticles will be studied for the delivery of therapeutic compounds in vitro. This project combines polymer synthesis and self-assembly processes with drug delivery applications


Project title: Design of Antimicrobial Polymers to Overcome Antibiotic Resistance Antimicrobial polymers

 

Supervisor

Professor Cyrille BoyerEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW  

CAMD research website

Project summary 

Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat for human health. Indeed, by 2050 an estimated 50 million people could be affected annually which will have a significant economic impact. In this project, we propose to design and investigate bioactive polymers capable of selectively killing bacteria. By synthesizing well-defined polymers, where each monomer unit is precisely placed in the polymer chain, we will correlate anti-microbial activities for a range of bacteria, with the polymer architectures and structures. To achieve this goal, we will use the most recent polymerization techniques, including photoinduced electron/energy transfer – reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer polymerization (developed by our group). This project combines polymer synthesis with microbiology and will be achieved in conjunction with international collaborators.


Project title: Single Atom Catalysts and Nanoclusters Supported on Nanoscale Silicon Carbide/Nitrides for the Partial Oxidation of Methane using Tunable Preceramic Polymer Templates Antimicrobial polymers

 

Supervisor

Dr Nicholas Bedford, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Associate Prof Jason Scott, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

The partial oxidation of methane is an intriguing route toward the production of syngas at stoichiometries directly amendable to methanol synthesis and/or Fischer-Tropsch reactions. This reaction is notoriously tricky to maintain, as it is often plagued with selectivity issues (i.e. total oxidation to CO2), or catalyst deactivation through coke formation. Additionally, the understanding of catalyst processing and structure is poorly understood, limiting logical decisions on catalyst design. This project aims to develop new materials with improved reactivity using single atom catalysts supported on silicon carbide/nitride supports made via block copolymer templating approaches. Preceramic polymers act as a precursor to form silicon carbide/nitride nanomaterials, while blending with appropriate catalyst metal precursors yields the final catalyst. To best understand how the materials are formed during processing and during partial oxidation of methane reactions, in-situ synchrotron characterization methods will be used to form structure/function relationships for these novel materials. The PhD project is funded through the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund and will necessitate an array of skills including particle synthesis, materials characterization and catalytic performance assessment. The student will be expected to participate in the Annual ACS Spring Meeting in Years 2 and 3 of their PhD.

Key techniques: Block copolymer template formation, high temperature ceramic processing, gas phase thermal catalysis, materials characterization including transmission electron microscopy and synchrotron characterization methods such as X-ray absorption spectroscopy and high-energy X-ray diffraction.

Environment: The project will be undertaken within the Bedford Research Group in the School of Chemical Engineering, which is part of the Particles and Catalysis Research Group.
For further information regarding this project, please contact Dr Nicholas Bedford, Prof Jason Scott, or visit:

 


Project title: Tailorable Ceramic Nanocomposites through Polymer Chemistry Antimicrobial polymers

 

Supervisor

Dr Nicholas Bedford, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Preceramic polymers provide unique ways to process otherwise cumbersome ceramic materials into interesting shapes and morphology at the nano, micro, and macro scale. The use of polymeric precursors further enables new chemistries and synthetic pathway not achievable using traditional ceramic processing. Yet the field is still in it infancy, and understanding how polymer chemistry and processing conditions influence the materials final structure and properties remains unknown. This project, in collaboration with the US Air Force Research Laboratory, aims to fill this void in fundamental knowledge by using a suite of advanced in-situ synchrotron structural characterization tools to understand how structure and polymer chemistry influences properties. The PhD project is funded through the Asian Office of Aerospace Development, where the student will be expected to participate in synchrotron experiments at the Advanced Photon Source and Cornell High-Energy Synchrotron Source in the US throughout the project.

Key techniques: Structural characterization of polymeric materials, the final ceramic nanocomposite, and the transitional structure in between is critical for the success of this project. As such, a prospective student should be eager to learn about various advanced characterization techniques, including X-ray absorption spectroscopy, small angle X-ray scattering, high-energy X-ray diffraction, and atomic force microscopy.

Environment: The project will be undertaken within the Bedford Research Group in the School of Chemical Engineering, which is part of the Particles and Catalysis Research Group.

For further information please visit:

 



Process Systems Engineering

Project title: Power Modulation of Aluminium Smelting Cells for Power Demand–Supply Balancing

Supervisory team
Professor Jie Bao | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW Engineering
Email: j.bao@unsw.edu.au
Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, Professor Barry Welch | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW Engineering

Project summarypower modulation image

The aluminium smelting process is very energy intensive. Australia’s smelting industry consuming 29.5 TWh of electricity in 2007, representing 13% of total electricity generated in Australia. The aluminium industry is facing significant challenges - variable availability of the electrical energy, particularly with increased penetration of renewable energy sources which are intermittent. Ideally, the production rate of the smelting process should be flexible through power modulation, optimized based on a number of factors including the aluminium price and energy availability/cost. However, the present approach to smelting cell control only allows limited flexibility for power modulation.

This project will develop new smelting process operation strategies, and cell monitoring and control approaches to allow flexible power modulation. There are major challenges in power modulation of aluminium reduction cells. Variable power input (amperage) may lead to significant problems in heat balance of the cells and current efficiency, and abnormal conditions may occur if the reduction cells are not tightly controlled.

This project is supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) through its Research Hub for Integrated Solutions to Energy Storage and our industrial partner Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA).

The supervisory team includes Prof. Bao (an expert of process control with international repute), Prof. Skyllas-Kazacos (an international authority of electrochemistry) and Prof. Welch (an international authority of electrochemistry and aluminium smelting process).


Project title: System Behaviour Based Process Control Using Big Process Operating Data

Supervisory team
Professor Jie Bao | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW Engineering
Email: j.bao@unsw.edu.au
Professor Wei Wang | School of Computer Science and Engineering, UNSW Engineering

Project summarybig data driven control image

With implementation of digital control systems, a very large amount of process operation data is being collected in the process industry. This project will develop a novel data-centric control approach that utilizes the big process data to improve the cost-effectiveness of process operations. Based on the behavioural systems theory and dissipativity theory, integrated with machine learning techniques, this project aims to develop a novel big data-driven control approach for nonlinear chemical processes. Specifically, we will develop:

  1. A new approach to analyse, classify and organise a large amount of process operation data in behaviour trees for data-driven control, using the concept of system behaviours and machine learning techniques;
  2. A novel stability analysis and design for big data-driven control based on the dissipativity theory in the system behaviour context;
  3. A novel multi-time scale data predictive control approach which determines the control action using online input-output trajectory and information on process behaviours in the big process database to achieve optimal process economy and ensure system stability.

The outcomes are expected to benefit the Australian process industry, where many processes are controlled by inadequate logic controllers, by improving their operational efficiency.


 

Project title:  Control of Distributed Battery Energy Storage Systems from a Network Perspective

Control of Distributed Battery Energy Storage Systems from a Network Perspective

Supervisory team

Professor Jie Bao, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
Emeritus Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
Professor Faz Rahman | School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW 
Professor John Fletcher | School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, UNSW 
Process Control research group website

Project summary

Distributed energy storage in electrical grids is becoming a critical aspect in maintaining power quality in the scenarios with a high penetration of renewable energy. The scope of this project includes:

  • Based on the dissipativity control theory, this research project aims to develop new scalable distributed control methods for a storage centric approach to distributed energy storage and power management, to improve power demand supply balance and achieve optimal techno-economic objectives including efficiency and reliability in both grids and standalone microgrids.
  • Online battery monitoring and optimal charging/discharging control approaches for Vanadium batteries will be developed by integrating battery design with control design.
  • Approaches will be developed to use Vanadium batteries for both power quality control and demand supply balance control, replacing the existing scheme that needs both supercapacitors for fast transient power control and batteries for slow dynamics.

This project is supported by a current ARC Discovery Projects grant.


Project title:  An Integrated Approach to Distributed Fault Diagnosis and Fault-tolerant Control for Plantwide Processes

Supervisory team
Professor Jie BaoEmail School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
Professor Sirish L. Shah | School of Chemical and Materials Engineering, University of Alberta, Canada
Process Control research group website

Project summary

An Integrated Approach to Distributed Fault Diagnosis and Fault-tolerant Control for Plantwide Processes

Modern industrial processes are very complex, with distributed process units via a network of material and energy streams. Their operations increasingly depend on automatic control systems, which can make the plants susceptible to faults such as sensor/actuator failures. Occurrence of faults is increased by the common practice to operate processes close to their design constraints for economic considerations. This project will develop a new approach to d

etect and reduce the impact of these faults, which can cause significant economic, environment and safety problems.

Based on the concept of dissipative systems, this project aims to develop a novel integrated approach to distributed fault diagnosis and fault-tolerant control for plantwide processes. The key dynamic features of normal and abnormal processes are captured by their dissipativity properties, which are used to develop an efficient online fault diagnosis approach based on process input and output trajectories, without the use of state estimators or residual gen

erators. Using the dissipativity framework, a distributed fault diagnosis approach will be developed to identify the locations and faults in a process network. A distributed fault tolerant control approach will be developed to ensure plantwide stability and performance.

This project is supported by a current ARC Discovery Projects grant.


Project title: Nonlinear Distributed Economic Model Predictive Control for Next Generation Smart Plants


Supervisory team

Professor Jie BaoEmail School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
Associate Professor Ian Manchester | School of Aerospace Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, University of Sydney
Dr Jinfeng Liu | School of Chemical and Materials Engineering, University of Alberta, Canada
Process Control research group website

Project summary

The process industry is continuously under the pressure from global competition and rising costs of energy and raw materials. With the globalisation of the world economy, the last decade has seen the increasing dynamics of the market demand with time varying diversity and quantity of products. This means the business in the process industry needs to have the flexibility to dynamically adjust the volume and specifications of the products and deal with diverse sources of raw materials and utilities to remain competitive. The process industry is at the dawn of next generation “smart manufacturing” (USA) or “Industry 4.0” (Germany) to transform towards demand-dynamic economics, performance based enterprises and demand-driven supply chain services by developing. Current research effort is focused on the development of the information technology architecture for the new generation smart plants. This project aims to develop a fundamental process control framework for this new industry paradigm.

Based on the behavioural approach to systems, dissipativity theory and contraction control theory, this project aims to integrate nonlinear control theory with distributed optimisation to develop a novel distributed economic predictive control approach for complex industrial processes that coordinates a network of autonomous controllers to control a plantwide process to achieve flexible targets (e.g., product specifications) according to market demand and maximises process economy. This outcome will be extended for distributed decision making for extended enterprises in global supply chain networks.


Project title: Advanced Control of Aluminum Smelting Cells


Supervisory team

Professor Jie BaoEmail School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW  Advanced Control of Aluminium Smelting Cells
Emeritus Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos
 | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Process Control research group website

Project summary

Primary production of aluminium is highly energy intensive, with energy costs representing 22-36% of operating costs in smelters. The long term sustainability of the aluminium smelting industry depends on energy-efficient production technologies for global competitiveness.

As an interdisciplinary project of process control and electrochemistry, this project aims to develop a new automatic control approach for aluminium smelting cells to provide much tight control of key distributed process variables in both spatially and temporally. The outcomes will be integrated in the control subroutines and work practices. This will significantly improve the energy and environmental efficien

cies of operation of aluminium smelters.

This project is supported by one of the major aluminium companies.


Project title: Development and scale-up of next generation coal upgrading technologies

Project summary

Coal represents one of the most important resources in Australian economy and coal research represents promising career opportunities in Australia. However, coal should be to more thermal-efficient and environmentally friendly fuel, i.e. clean oil and gas, for wider and cleaner applications. However, these processes are very complicated and challenging in design. In collaboration with coal industry, this project will study next generation coal upgrading technologies by combining numerical simulation and experiments.

Novelty and Contribution: Using the advanced numerical modelling approach, the innovative process can be designed, illustrated and scaled-up in a cost-effective manner. For example, in our previous studies, a set of CFD models are developed to describe the Victoria brown coal pyrolysis from lab-scale to industrial-scale (right figure).

Expected outcome: This project will continue the effort in the model development for coal upgrading technologies as well as the understanding of the mechanism behind the complex thermochemical phenomena. A number of scientific articles and conference presentations will also be produced within the duration of the project.

We welcome talented students who are interested in the work. We have a variety of scholarships for domestic and international students. 



Project title: Design and optimisation of electrolysis for hydrogen production (supported by ARENA)

Project summary

Hydrogen is promising next generation renewable energy to reduce carbon footprint. Electrolysis is a promising route to produce hydrogen, however, this process has not been well design and optimised. This project aims to develop a high-efficient electrolysis system by combining CFD approach and lab experiment for exploring the optimised design, configuration and productivity.

Novelty and Contribution: Supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), this project will develop new design tools for optimising the process of photo-voltaic electrolysis (PVE), in terms of e.g. bubbles resistance, ionic resistance, new membrane materials in the electrolyser. Subsequently, the optimisation can be applied to increase the electrolysis efficiency.

Expected outcome: This project will develop a comprehensive electrolyser model for simulating the complicated electrochemical phenomena in the electrolyser system and thereby providing the necessary information for the technology upgrading. A number of scientific articles and conference presentations will also be produced within the duration of the project.

The model development is challenging and demanding. We welcome students who have experience in water electrolysis process/electrolyser and CFD modelling, or are interested in solving challenging problems to join our group.



Project title: Particle-scale study of spout deflection in fluidized beds

 

Project summary

Fluidized bed is one of the dominant chemical reactors for gas-solid mixing and chemical production, and have been widely used in both conventional and emerging industries, such as pharmaceutical, metallurgy, and mining, especially in Australia. By introducing a strong jet flow, the packed particles with large density, diameter or complex shapes in the fluidized beds are vigorously dragged and form a spouting channel with two circulation patterns. The spout deflection can be easily triggered by small disturbances, which means the spout channel alternatingly deflects in the lateral direction. This phenomenon not only deteriorates the flow uniformity and product quality but also limits the scale-up of the fluidized bed.

This project aims to carry out a comprehensive study on spout deflection via combining laser-based experimental method and particle-scale numerical method. The initial study has demonstrated that spout deflection has a higher gas-solid mixing efficiency than the existing flow pattern in applications. This program will continue to explore the application and control of spout deflection for further scale-up of fluidized beds.

We welcome talented students who are interested in this work. A variety of scholarships for domestic and international students is available. Besides, this research provides high-quality education that prepares you for your future career in various enterprises and research institutes.


Project title: Particle scale study of fines migration in suspension flow in porous membrane for wastewater treatment

Project summary

Australia is one of the driest inhabited continents, and wastewater treatment and purification are of great significance and importance in Australia. In the membrane-based purification process, the understanding of fines migration behaviors and fouling mechanisms based on particle scale can effectively help optimize the operation conditions and increase the purification efficiency.

In ProMO group, the state-of-the-art CFD-DEM (computational fluid dynamic-discrete element method) modelling approach will be further developed for understanding the insights on fines migration and removal across the membrane. Several projects are available in this area:

  • Model development for describing the powder-solid-liquid behavior including powder, solid and liquid phases.
  • The study of fundamental powder-solid-liquid behaviors including complex inter-phase interactions.
  • The application of new numerical models on water treatment process, for example the microfiltration and granular filtration, and the analysis of fouling mechanism based on particle scale.

Talented students who are interested in these projects are most welcomed, and various scholarships are available for both domestic and international students. The research experience during PhD study will prepare you for job prospects in research institutions or universities.


Project title: Designs and optimization of biomass upgrading and combustion technology, supported by ARC and industry 

Project summary

As carbon neutral fuel, biomass has been reported one of most feasible and low-cost renewable energy source for future energy supply, representing 14% of the total amount of renewable energy at present. Biomass gasification is an innovative technology for converting diverse types of biomass into clean synthesis gas, transportation fuels, chemicals, and other products. This project aims to develop next generation biomass upgrading technologies towards to increased efficiency, low cost, and low greenhouse gas emission. Several PhD topics are available at ProMO group.

  • Biomass gasification including model development, new process design, mechanism study, and industrial application.
  • Biomass combustion in ironmaking blast furnace including model development, sub-model development and operational optimization.
  • Co-gasification or co-combustion of biomass and other fuels, including used tire and coal.

We welcome talented students who are interested in the work, and we have a variety of scholarships for domestic and international students.


Project title: Process modelling of ironmaking blast furnaces, in collaboration with Rio Tinto

Project summary

Ironmaking blast furnaces is the dominant reactor to convert iron ore to iron products. The design and control of ironmaking BFs must be optimized to be competitive and sustainable, particularly under the more and more demanding economic and environmental conditions.

This project aims to study in-furnace multiphase flow, heat and mass transfer, and performance of ironmaking BFs, toward achieving reliable, cost- and energy-effective, and low-emission production ultimately. The discrete-based modeling methods with particle-scale information captured and the continuum-based modeling methods with macro-scale information obtained are developed in our ProMO group to efficiently unveil the features of locale and global multiphase flow and thermochemical behaviors inside BFs.

We welcome talented students who are interested in the work, and we have a variety of scholarships for domestic and international students. The research experience and skills acquired during PhD study will help developing high end job opportunities in global leading iron ore companies.


Project title: Multi-scale study of sand filtration for wastewater treatment, supported by ARC and industry

Project summary

Sand filtration is commonly used in drinking water treatment processes to remove suspended solids, colloids, and some pathogens like microbes and viruses. To improve the sand filtration performance, understanding the mechanics of hydrodynamics and adhesive torques between the suspension and sand particles is essential. This project aims to predict the adsorption or detachment of colloids and quantify the flow velocity heterogeneity near the sand particles surface. The Lattice Boltzmann method (LBM), which describe fluid transport phenomena by a resolved computational fluid dynamics (CFD) method, can describe the fluid-particle interactions. This project will focus on the LBM development for describing the fluid flow through porous media, aiming to deliver the fundamental understanding of liquid-solid hydrodynamics at particle scale and expand the application of sand filtration in drinking water treatment processes.

We welcome talented students who are interested in the work, and we have a variety of scholarships for domestic and international students. The research experience and skills acquired during PhD study will help exploring job opportunities in academia and industry.


Project title: DEM study of particle mixing in mixers, supported by ARC and industry

Project summary

Particle mixing is an essential process to control product quality produced from particle blends in many industries, such as pharmaceutical, food and chemical engineering industries. Hence, the predictability and optimization of the mixing behavior of granular materials play a crucial role in energy-saving in these industrial scenes. This project aims to develop an advanced numerical technique - discrete element method (DEM), and to investigate particle mixing performance in different mixers (e.g., cylindrical mixer, ribbon mixer and rotating drum) for the prediction of the mixture quality.

Research environment: The PhD student will work in ProMO group and be part of Future Food System CRC centre. We will provide various domestic and international scholarships with talented students who are interested in process modelling.

Expected Outcome: It is expected that the successful candidate will participate in international conferences and will publish his/her work in high impact factor journals.


Project title: Numerical study of clean coal combustion (supported by ARC and industry) 

Project summary

Coal remains the most widely used energy resource in the foreseeable future. Chemical looping combustion (CLC), which has intrinsic merit of separating CO2 during the combustion process, has been regarded as one of the most promising clean coal combustion technologies with near-zero emission of pollutants. However, the multi-scale structures and multi-physics processes of multi-phase flow in the fuel reactor (FR) and air reactor (AR) of the CLC require an in-depth understanding for the further design and optimization of industrial-scales apparatus.

This project aims to design next generation CLC system via a series of numerical studies of CLC systems using advanced numerical modelling approaches. Previously, the two-fluid model combined with thermochemical sub-models was developed to study the physical-thermal-chemical characteristics of dense gas-solid reaction flows in a CLC system. This project will continue to explore the application and optimization of the CLC process in aspects of reactor design, oxygen carrier selection, and reaction kinetics simplification.

We welcome talented students who are interested in the work, and we have a variety of scholarships for domestic and international students. The research experience and skills acquired during PhD study will help explore job opportunities in this promising area.


Project title: Data-driven optimization of chemical reactors, supported by ARC and industry

Project summary

One important topic in Industry 4.0 trend is smart manufacturing in conventional and emerging industries. This project aims to develop an innovative data-driven modelling approach for online describing complex multiphase flow and real time prediction of operational anomalies. At this point, ProMO group handles complex nonlinear problems using state of the art numerical methods including artificial neural networks (ANN), support vector machine (SVM), and the random forest (RF).

Novelty and Contribution: This is a promising new research area at the frontier of applying novel data-driven method in chemical engineering fields. It is part of the search of alternatives to traditional computational fluid dynamics (CFD) processing technologies to achieve high-efficiency prediction of chemical reactors, therefore, enhancing reaction performance.

Expected Outcome: It is expected that the successful candidate will participate in international conferences and will publish his/her work in high impact factor journals. This work will expand the capabilities of the student in both industrial and academic career.


Project title: Phase diagram calculation and materials design for renewable energy-focused materials, supported by ARC and industry

Project summary

The current renewable devices fail to achieve satisfactory efficiency, due to lacking the in-depth understanding of the materials processing and materials properties. The phase diagram is a powerful tool to characterize and select potential materials. This project will develop phase diagrams for renewable energy-focused materials by combing the experimental methods and thermodynamic optimization methods using XRD, SEM-EDS, DTA, and CALPHAD technique. This project will contribute a set of reliable thermodynamic database of the related renewable energy materials and also work as a cost-effective tool to design scientific experiments and manufacture of alloy.

We consumingly welcome the further PhD graduates and will provide various scholarships for domestic and international students. Moreover, the research experience and skills acquired during PhD study will secure job opportunities.


Project title: Particle scale modelling of biomass gasification technology, supported by ARC and industry 

Project summary

Biomass gasification is a thermochemical conversion process where the solid biomaterial are converted to combustible gases with minimal harmful emissions. This project aims to explore the hydrodynamics and thermochemical characteristics of dense gas-solid reaction flow during the biomass process by means of a CFD-DEM coupling approach. To capture these characteristics, the model should fully consider the heat and mass transfer sub-model, and the homogeneous and heterogeneous chemical reactions sub-models. This project will unveil the multi-scale flow structures and multi-physics phenomena involved in the biomass gasification process, benefiting the design and optimization of the relevant reactors.

The talented students with enthusiasm in coding and programming are welcome, and our group will provide a variety of domestic and international scholarships. It is expected that the successful candidate will participate in international conferences and will publish his/her work in high impact factor journals. This work will expand the capabilities of the student in both the industrial and academic career.


Project title: CFD study of plastic bottle recycling process (supported by CRC and industry)

Project summary

Plastic recycling is an important issue with the shortage of the landfill and environmental pollutions as well as its economic impact. Residual adhesives should be removed for 100% HDPE recycling in massive plastic bottles recycling. It is necessary to design a process at laboratory and upscale the process from laboratory scale to industrial scale. To achieve this goal, an advanced mathematical model will be developed for describing the complex multiphase flow during the removal process and understanding the details of internal phenomena inside the reactor. A laboratory test rig will be set up for concept proof and model validation. Then, the mathematical model will be used to evaluate and test new designs and different operational scenarios extensively. In the end, the optimal design and process parameters combination can be obtained. Mathematical modelling, supported by laboratory-scale experiments offers a powerful and cost-effective tool for process design and optimization, and more importantly for industrial upscaling, from laboratory-scale concept proof to industry scale technology demonstration and implementation.

We welcome students to join us, using the advanced numerical modelling technology to protect the environment and make contributions to society. We provide various scholarships for international and domestic students. You can obtain good opportunities to participate in the collaboration between university and industry.


Project title: Numerical optimisation of recycling of end-of-life solar cell panels (supported by ARENA and industry)

Project summary

Photovoltaic (PV) is one of the renewable technologies and the amount of waste PV panel is estimated to reach 9.57 million tonnes in 2050. The recycling of waste PV panels represents a challenge and also a business opportunity. This project aims to develop and design an innovative process of recycling end-of-life solar cell panels by means of numerical simulations for process design and lab experiments for process demonstration. The recycling sub processes will be designed and optimised in terms of EVA separation, hydrometallurgy, waste gas and water treatment, etc. From the engineering point of view, each process requires deep understanding so that the process optimisation can be achieved. Based on the proposed recycling technical scenario, the respective numerical model of each process will be developed to illustrate the physics and thermochemical phenomena behind it. A number of scientific articles and conference presentations will also be produced within the duration of the project.

We welcome the students who are interested in PV and numerical modelling technology to join us, and we could provide various scholarships for international and domestic students. You can obtain good opportunities to participate in the collaboration between university and industry.


Project title: Numerical optimisation of hydrogen storage tank design (supported by ARENA and industry)

Project summary

Hydrogen is the most promising energy source that can be applied environmentally friendly and economically. One key issue in hydrogen industry is to effectively store hydrogen. This project aims to conduct the process and design optimisation of the hydrogen storage system, including the internal structure configuration, materials, and operating conditions. For improving the performance of the storage system, a series of new designs will be proposed and numerically examined to evaluate their performance. It is expected that we can achieve the technological innovation of hydrogen storage in the near future. A number of scientific articles and conference presentations will also be produced within the duration of the project.

We welcome the students who are interested in renewable energy and numerical modelling technology to joins us, and we could provide various scholarships for international and domestic students.



Project title: Model development of a semi-resolved CFD-DEM model for fine particle migration

Project summary

The migration of fine particles in gap-graded soils due to seepage flow is often encountered in geotechnical engineering. The mechanism of the seepage-induced fine particle migration is not yet clear since it involves the fluid flow through a complex pore network of the coarse skeleton at the pore-scale and the particle-fluid interactions at the particle-scale. This project aims to develop a semi-resolved CFD-DEM model which combines resolved CFD-DEM with the unresolved CFD-DEM to provide a useful tool in understanding the mechanism of fine particle migration. The fluid flow in the vicinity of the fine particles is locally averaged over a domain with dimensions larger than the sizes of fine particles, which is similar to that in the unresolved CFD-DEM; while the flow around the coarse particle is resolved using fluid meshes with sizes several times smaller than the diameters of the coarse particles, which is identical to that in the resolved CFD-DEM.

We welcome the students who are interested in computer science and numerical algorithm implementation on the opensource software packages to joins us, and we could provide various scholarships for international and domestic students



Water Treatment 

Title: Advances in aeration process for water treatment

 

Supervisor

Associate Professor Pierre Le-Clech, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 
UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology website

Project summary 

Given the potential risk associated with Legionella growth and persistence in engineered processes such as aerator systems used during water treatment, this project will be commissioned to describe our current understanding of aeration processes and their operating challenges, especially in a temperate climate. The identified gaps in knowledge are to be used to develop the following research activities:

  • Improved risk assessment through quantitative measurement of aeration performance,
  • Investigation of appropriate options for mitigation, cleaning and maintenance of current aerators,
  • Development of guidelines for new aerator design,
  • Development and assessment of appropriate monitoring and modeling tools for process performance and maintenance.

Research Environment: Not only the student will be working within the world renowned UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology, this project will be based on significant collaboration with our industrial partner, Water Corporation in Western Australia. Given the nature of the study, many aspects will rely on complementary skills offered by the research team, at both UNSW and Water Corp. This will offer a great opportunity for the student to significantly increase his/her core knowledge within a wide range of topics. 

Novelty and Contribution: The practical contribution of this project on the health and safety of the plant operators and local community is of great significance. The access to plants combined with advanced sampling and analysis of aerators deposits will offer new insights to this challenge, and the development of new operational strategies. In addition, new analytical tools and statistical tests will be developed for this specific application.

Expected outcome: Ultimately, the project is expected to produce a set of guidelines to be used within the water industry for the design, operation and maintenance of aerator systems in water treatment. Obviously, a number of scientific articles and conference presentations will also be produced within the duration of the project.  


Project title: Ultrasonic Assisted Plasma for water Detoxification

Supervisor

Dr Francisco TrujilloEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW 

Project summary 

Ultrasonic Assisted Plasma Detoxification (UAPD) is a novel process for complete mineralization of recalcitrant pollutants in wastewater. Ultrasound is injected into the fluid via a horn that emits acoustic waves also producing cavitation bubbles in the liquid. This is because high-power ultrasound results in the expansion, compression and final implosion of gas micro-sized bubble dissolved in the liquid phase. The extreme collapse of the bubbles produce local temperatures of up to 5,000oK and pressures of up to 50 MPa. On the other hand, underwater plasma is produced via Radio Frequency electromagnetic waves.  The mechanism of this technology is still unknown but is based on the synergism of cavitation bubbles that facilitate and sustain the plasma formation. The plasma produces radical species that mineralize pollutants. The advantage of this new technology is that it can completely detoxify and sanitize wastewater while producing hydrogen that can be used as a clean source of energy.

Research environment: The PhD student will have the opportunity to work with members of the UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology as well as wastewater treatment groups within the school of chemical engineering.

Novelty and Contribution: Developing a new technology that potentially can achieve complete water detoxification and sanitation while producing hydrogen.

Expected Outcome: It is expected that the successful candidate will participate in international conferences and will publish his/her work in high impact factor journals. This work will expand the capabilities of the student to work in the industry or to continue a research or academic career.


Project title: Characterisation of taste and odour compounds produced by cyanobacteria/algae

Supervisory team

Professor Richard Stuetz, Email | School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW
Dr Arash Zamyadi, Email | Faculty of Engineering, UNSW 
Dr Rita Henderson, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Cyanobacteria are increasingly challenging the capability of drinking water and advanced wastewater treatment works to meet Australian drinking and recycled water guidelines due to the release of metabolites including cyanotoxins and taste and odour (T&O) compounds that adversely impact water quality. 2-methylisoborneol (2-MIB) and geosmin (produced by cyanobacteria) are considered to be the dominated T&O compounds. However, in order to take steps in a timely manner to prevent them entering the distribution system it is necessary to be able to accurately measure these compounds and potentially other compounds (produced by cyanobacteria and other phytoplankton communities) that also contribute to T&O complaints in water supplies. As more sophisticated analytical approaches are developed to investigate T&O compounds, we are able to apply these techniques to have a more comprehensive understanding of T&O causing compounds so that better risk management strategies for their management, including mitigation and treatment, can be established. The successful student will join the ARC Linkage project team that entails a substantial collaboration between the School of Chemical Engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Australian Water Quality Centre (SA Water, Adelaide), National Cheng Kung University (Taiwan) and a further six industry partners. The student will have access to state-of-the-art analytical equipment available in the UNSW Water Research Centre, Water Quality Laboratories, including the ‘UNSW Odour Laboratory’. 


Project title: Natural organic matter monitoring in a water supply catchment: Novel techniques, long term trends and impact on treatability 

Supervisor 

Dr Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

NOM treatment by water treatment plants is necessary to keep concentrations of potentially harmful disinfection by-products below those that could cause harm. It is well understood that natural organic matter (NOM) character as well as concentration impacts its treatability by water treatment processes and that concentration and character can change over time. In situ and on-line monitoring of both NOM character and concentration is therefore of benefit in any water supply catchment subject to NOM variability. However, the most appropriate monitoring method is a question that requires investigation. A PhD top-up scholarship operating and allowance is available for a successful APA/IPRS (or equivalent) applicant to conduct a PhD project on the topic: Natural organic matter monitoring in a water supply catchment: Novel techniques, long term trends and impact on treatability. The PhD is funded through an ARC Linkage grant (LP160100620) supported by the Sydney Water Corporation and Water NSW and seeks to evaluate novel in situ spectroscopic techniques both in the catchment and within water treatment plants to determine the most appropriate protocol for monitoring NOM changes relevant to treatment. 


Project title: Advanced molecular characterisation of surface water organic matter 

Supervisor 

Dr Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Surface water organic matter is frequently subject to characterisation using techniques such as size exclusion chromatography with trace organic carbon detection and fluorescence excitation-emission spectroscopy. However, there is a distinct lack of understanding as to the molecular composition of the size fractions of fluorescent peaks that are observed. This project seeks to apply advanced molecular characterisation techniques, for example NMR and high resolution mass spectrometry, and data analysis techniques to elucidate the composition of chemical structures.   


Project title: Assessing granular activated carbon capacity for algal taste and odour removal: Development of a predictive tool 

Supervisory team

Dr Arash Zamyadi, Email | Faculty of Engineering, UNSW 
Dr Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Professor Richard StuetzEmail | School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

The presence of cyanobacteria and algae in water sources and within water treatment plants is a problem increasingly faced by water supply managers. Climate change effects provide more favourable conditions for cyanobacterial and algal growth in warm and temperate climates leading to more frequent bloom events. Several cyanobacterial and algal species are potent producers of taste and odour (T&O) compounds. Geosmin and 2-Methylisoborneol (MIB) are two commonly detected cyanobacterial T&O compounds in water. They impart an earthy musty taste and/or odour which can lead to customer complaints. Application of granular activated carbon (GAC) contactors or filter caps to control T&O compounds is wide spread practice within the water industry. However, it is difficult to determine whether the GAC has sufficient remaining adsorptive capacity to control a T&O event should one occur. This PhD project will seek to develop a model that informs the ability of existing GAC contactors to control influent T&O compounds.  


Project title: Release of Intracellular Cyanotoxins during Oxidation of Natural Bloom Samples and Laboratory Cultured Cells

 

Supervisory team

Dr Arash Zamyadi, Email | Faculty of Engineering, UNSW 
Dr Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Professor Richard StuetzEmail | School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Successful oxidation of toxic cyanobacteria cells and their associated toxins is a major challenge for water utilities during water treatment and wastewater reuse due to unknown phenomena that govern the process. The available literature regarding intracellular release during oxidation focuses on a limited range of treatment conditions using primarily laboratory cultured cells and few mass balance determinations with total, intracellular, and extracellular cyanotoxin measurements. In order for water utilities to improve their response to cyanobacterial blooms, several knowledge gaps regarding the fate of intracellular cyanotoxins during oxidation of naturally occurring toxic cyanobacteria cells in fresh water, and wastewater lagoons and stabilisation ponds need to be addressed. This research project will build upon the previous research to focus more on conditions practical for water treatment and wastewater reuse, and provide improved mass balance information for total, intracellular, and extracellular cyanotoxin concentration. A framework will be generated to create guideline values for oxidation conditions where (1) the intracellular cyanotoxin will be released, and (2) fluorescence-based probe measurements indicate when cell damage has occurred.   


Project title: Impact of cyanobacteria cell and organic matter properties on cyanotoxin oxidation efficiency and downstream treatment

 

Supervisory team

Dr Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
Dr Arash Zamyadi, Email | Faculty of Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

Climate change is exacerbating the issue of toxic cyanobacterial blooms and associated toxin release in drinking water sources, recreational waters and treated wastewater lagoons. Failure to thoroughly understand and apply oxidation of cyanotoxins can lead to the persistence of these toxins in treated water destined for human consumption. This project will study the impact of water and cellular organic matter on oxidation of cyanotoxins and the chemical reactions that govern the process, resulting in improved understanding of oxidation process and development of accurate oxidation kinetics. The project will (1) deliver an accurate cyanotoxin oxidation kinetics model and efficient oxidation technique to minimise public health risks, (2) advance the knowledge base on oxidation of cyanotoxins that will enable the selection of appropriate treatment design parameters, (3) create the potential to realise savings in reduced oxidant dosing and reduce treatment cost, improve understanding on the impact of downstream treatment processes.  


Project title: Recyclable green coagulants for the solid-liquid separation of algae 

Supervisor 

Dr Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW

Project summary 

The separation process of microalgae and cyanobacteria receives a lot of scientific interest today in the framework of various applications such as water treatment and biomass production. The occurrence of microalgae and cyanobacterial blooms are increasingly challenging the operational capability of drinking water and advanced waste water treatment to meet Australian drinking and recycled water guidelines due to the release of metabolites including cyanotoxins and taste and odour (T&O) compounds that adversely impact water quality. In the framework of biomass production; cheap and effective separation of microalgae/cyanobacterial biomass is a crucial process in the overall design of economical biomass production to be applied in novel food, feed or fuel applications. Both for water treatment and biomass production, novel coagulation-based separation methods (sedimentation or flotation) are desired to optimize existing and designing future separation strategies.

Metal coagulants, such as (poly)aluminium and ferric salts, or synthetic polymers, such as polyacrylamides, have been applied for decades in water treatment and mining industry. However, in most cases, the use of those type of coagulants is costly, leading to the production of large sludge volumes. Secondly, it could lead to toxic contamination of the separated biomass when applied in microalgae/cyanobacterial biomass production processes. Therefore, research in the development and application of novel green and recyclable coagulants is needed to improve the separation process. This PhD project will therefore investigate the potential of novel green and recyclable coagulants to be used in separation processes for microalgae/cyanobacteria.  


Project title: Controlling algae using multi-functional cold plasma activated microbubbles

Supervisor

Associate Professor Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW www.aom.unsw.edu.au

Project summary

Algal blooms can be extremely toxic with the potential to kill fish and other living organisms, and cause water treatment plant closures. On the other hand, the planned cultivation and processing of algae at high concentrations for biotechnology is a growth industry, providing food, biofuels and bioplastics. Algal bloom management involves energy or chemical intensive oxidation processes that can destroy harmful cells and toxins in water supplies. Current algal control methods are frequently ineffective, expensive and/or unsustainable; advanced technologies are urgently required to improve on existing practices. In this project, we will investigate whether cold-plasma, a next generation oxidant that uses atmospheric air and an electrical discharge to generate highly reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) in liquid, may provide a sustainable solution to control complex algal processes. Tuneable cold plasma activated microbubbles (cPAM) can be developed by manipulating the RONS composition, to both selectively inactivate and rupture microalgae cells and encourage growth of monocultures via enhanced metabolic cell function. To realise the potential that multi-functional cPAM could bring to algal management, an understanding of the underlying mechanisms that govern the 4-phase (plasma-gas-liquid-solid) system needs to be achieved.

Research Environment

This Australian Research Council funded Discovery project will be undertaken in the Algae and Organic Matter Lab (AOM Lab) in the School of Chemical Engineering which is part of the world renowned UNESCO Center for Membrane Science and Technology (www.membrane.unsw.edu.au). For further information about AOM Lab, please visit: www.aom.unsw.edu.au.

Candidate Requirements

We are looking for two motivated, enthusiastic PhD candidates to join the AOM Lab under the Nuisance and Harmful Algae stream to work on this challenging project. The candidates should have a background in chemical, civil or environmental engineering (or similar), and a demonstrated aptitude for undertaking laboratory work. They should be able to demonstrate excellent communication skills, a creative and positive attitude to problem solving and an ability to work both autonomously and in a team. Industry experience while desirable, is not mandatory.


Project title: Recyclable green coagulants for the solid-liquid separation of algae

Supervisor

Associate Professor Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW www.aom.unsw.edu.au

Project summary

Cheap and effective separation of microalgae and cyanobacterial biomass is a crucial to economical biomass production. Metal coagulants, such as (poly)aluminium and ferric salts, or synthetic polymers, such as polyacrylamides, have been applied for decades in water treatment. However, in most cases, the use of those type of coagulants is costly, leading to the production of large and unsustainable sludge volumes. Secondly, it could lead to toxic contamination of the separated biomass when applied in microalgae and cyanobacterial biomass production processes, thereby, leaving a large environmental footprint. Hence, research in the development and application of novel green and recyclable coagulants is essential to improve the sustainability of separation process. This inter-disciplinary project will therefore investigate the potential for the application of novel green and recyclable polymers in flotation processes for the separation and harvesting of microalgae and cyanobacteria. Elements from the fields of polymer science, water treatment, colloidal chemistry, and algal biochemistry would be assessed to delineate the underlying mechanisms that govern separation while ensuring that the process is robust, sustainable and leaves little environmental footprint.

Research Environment

The project will be undertaken in the Algae and Organic Matter Lab (AOM Lab) in the School of Chemical Engineering which is part of the world renowned UNESCO Center for Membrane Science and Technology ( www.membrane.unsw.edu.au). For further information about AOM Lab, please visit: www.aom.unsw.edu.au.

Candidate Requirements

The candidate should have a background in chemical, civil or environmental engineering (or similar), and a demonstrated aptitude for undertaking laboratory work. They should be able to demonstrate excellent communication skills, a creative and positive attitude to problem solving and an ability to work both autonomously and in a team. Industry experience while desirable, is not mandatory.


Project title: Development of Risk Management Strategies for Algal Growth and Accumulation within Drinking Water Treatment Plants

 

Supervisor

Associate Professor Rita HendersonEmail | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW www.aom.unsw.edu.au

Project summary

Algal blooms in catchments and water reservoirs can produce nuisance and harmful metabolites that are carefully monitored and treated to maintain a high-quality water supply. However, algal growth and accumulation has also been observed within drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs). Some of these algae evidently penetrate from water reservoirs into the DWTP, and it is likely that DWTPs act as incubators for further algal growth. It is hypothesised that the DWTP ecosystem selects for, and incubates, particularly resilient algal species. This project will use state-of-the-art technologies to detect, quantify and characterise algal blooms in DWTPs, including genetic tools to investigate algal community composition and trace organic analysis to measure undesirable algal metabolites. To penetrate the DWTP, algae need to survive various physical and chemical water pre-treatment processes, which may include pre-oxidation, chemical coagulation-flocculation and rapid mixing. This project will therefore also investigate the impact of treatment processes on the composition of these resilient algal communities.

Research Environment

The project will be undertaken in the Algae and Organic Matter Lab (AOM Lab) in the School of Chemical Engineering which is part of the world renowned UNESCO Center for Membrane Science and Technology ( www.membrane.unsw.edu.au). The project falls under the ambit of the larger Nuisance and Harmful Algae Science-Practice Partnership (NHASP) with Melbourne Water ( http://www.algae.unsw.edu.au/), which is a multi-party initiative that seeks to more effectively manage algal blooms by introducing smart surveillance and evidence-based, cost-effective policy and asset design for the benefit of the Melbourne region and Australia. For further information about AOM Lab, please visit: www.aom.unsw.edu.au.

Candidate Requirements

The successful candidate(s) will join the NHASP program. The candidate should have a background in either civil, chemical or environmental engineering (or similar), a demonstrated aptitude for undertaking laboratory/field work, have excellent communication skills and will be expected to interact regularly with industry partners.


Project title: Towards safer management of supernatant return in drinking water plants

Supervisor
Associate Professor Pierre Le-Clech, Email | School of Chemical Engineering, UNSW
UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology

Project Summary:
The filter backwash recycling rule (FBRR) has been introduced by the US EPA in 2002, and has been since implemented around the world as best practice to address the risk associated with pathogens present in supernatant waters (i.e., spent filter backwash water, sludge thickener supernatant and liquids from dewatering processes). Since its introduction, the FBRR has been considered as a significant factor limiting the opportunity to improve practices for supernatant return in drinking water plants. As increasing water scarcity in Australia forces utilities to continuously optimise their separation systems and their water recovery, it is now required to critically demonstrate the health risk associated with supernatant return and establish recommendations for new set of guidelines. Based on the critical importance of water quality and customer health protection, recent advances in risk assessment techniques are expected to allow the development of improved, more appropriate, but still safe management of supernatant return.

Research Environment: Not only the student will be working within the UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology, this project will be based on significant collaboration with a large number of industrial partners, especially water utilities like TasWater, Seqwater, Hunter Water… Given the nature of the study, many aspects will rely on complementary skills offered by the research team, from process design, operating management and control to microbial risk assessment. This will offer a great opportunity for the student to significantly increase their core knowledge within a wide range of topics.

Novelty and Contribution: The practical contribution of this project on the health and safety of water consumers is of great significance. The access to plants combined with advanced sampling and analysis of supernatant treated by a range of processes will offer new insights to this challenge, and the development of new operational strategies. In addition, new analytical tools and statistical tests will be developed for this specific application.

Expected outcome: Ultimately, the project is expected to produce a set of guidelines to be used within the water industry for the design, operation and control of best supernatant recycling scheme in water treatment. Obviously, a number of scientific articles and conference presentations will also be produced within the duration of the project.