Investigation into the use of waste sources for greening the synthesis of LDH materials and developing their applications for future technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford


Layered double hydroxides (LDHs) are a family of synthetic materials similar to naturally occurring layered minerals such as the clay hydrotalcite. First discovered over 175 years ago, they remain the focus of much research in numerous different fields. They possess many attractive properties for those interested in developing new technologies, owing to the ease of including a large number of different elements in their structure and the many different chemicals that can be stored between their layers. This allows researchers to fine-tune the materials' properties for a wide range of different applications ranging from plastic additives to the controlled release of drugs for medical treatments. They can also be used to improve the efficiency of industrial processes or to capture potentially dangerous emissions such as carbon dioxide or toxins from manufacturing.
If these new technologies are to be adopted on an industrial scale, it is important that green synthesis methods are developed to minimise the environmental impact of their production. Current production methods use expensive metal salts and produce large amounts of salt rich effluent. Production of these metal salt feedstocks requires high energy inputs which are associated with large greenhouse gas emissions. One way to make these processes greener is to use waste products as the starting materials. This reduces the cost of treating waste produced by other industrial processes, thereby increasing their economic efficiency. Such recycling of the metal content of potentially toxic waste ties in with the idea of a circular economy in which products are constantly recycled into the raw materials needed to produce new products, minimising the need to exploit the environment for additional resources.
Recent work has shown Struvite, a waste mineral extracted during municipal wastewater treatment which can otherwise cause costly blockages in pipes, can be successfully used to produce LDH materials with unique and desirable properties such as both a high density and large
surface area. These properties, rarely found together, are ideal for handling the product as a powder at large scale. This project aims to further develop this method to produce similar LDH materials and investigate their properties, evaluate the potential of other waste resources as starting materials for green LDH production and develop practical uses of these materials to make them increasingly attractive for industrial manufacturing.
This project falls within the EPSRC manufacturing the future and physical sciences research areas.

Planned Impact

The primary impact of the OxICFM CDT will be the highly-trained world-class scientists that it delivers. This impact will encompass both the short term (during their doctoral studies), the medium term (subsequent employment) and ultimately the longer timescale defined by their future careers and consequent impact on science, engineering and policy in the UK.

The impact of OxICFM students during their doctoral studies will be measured by the culture change in graduate training that the Centre brings about - in working at the interface between inorganic synthesis and manufacturing, and fostering cross-sector industry/academia working practices. By embedding not only from larger companies, but also SMEs, we have developed a training regime that has broader relevance across the sector, and the potential for building bridges by fostering new collaborations spanning enormous diversity in scientific focus and scale. Moreover, at a broader level, OxICFM offers to play a unique role as a major focus (and advocate) for manufacturing engagement with academic inorganic synthetic science in the UK.

From a scientific perspective, OxICFM will be uniquely able to offer a broad training programme incorporating innovative and challenging collaborative projects spanning all aspects of fundamental and applied inorganic synthesis, both molecular and materials based (40+ faculty). These will address key challenges in areas such as energy provision/storage, catalysis, and resource provision/renewal necessary to enhance the capability and durability of UK plc in the medium term. To give some idea of perspective, the output from previous CDTs in Oxford's MPLS Division include two start-up companies and in excess of 30 patents.

It is not only in the industrial and scientific realms that students will have impact during their timeframe of their doctorate. Part of the training programme will be in public engagement: team-based challenges in resource development/training and outreach exercises/implementation will form part of the annual summer school. These in turn will constitute a key part of the impact derived from the CDT by its engagement with the public - both face-to-face and through electronic/web-based media. As the centre matures, our aspiration is that our students - from diverse backgrounds - will act as ambassadors for the programme and promote even higher levels of inclusion from all parts of society.

For our partners, and businesses both large and small in the manufacturing sector, it will be our students who are considered the ultimate output of the OxICFM CDT. Our programme has been shaped by the need of such companies (frequently expressed in preliminary discussions) to recruit doctoral graduates who can apply themselves to a broad spectrum of multi-disciplinary challenges in manufacturing-related synthesis. OxICFM's cohort-based training programme integrates significant industry-led training components and has been designed to deliver a much broader skill set than standard PhD schemes. The current lack of CDT training at the interface of inorganic chemistry and manufacturing (and the relevance of inorganic molecules/materials to numerous industrial sectors) heightens the need for - and the potential impact of - the OxICFM CDT. Our students will represent a tangible and valuable asset to meet the long-term skills demand for scientists to develop new materials and nanotechnology identified in the UK Government's 2013 Foresight report.

In the longer term, the broad and relevant training delivered by OxICFM, and the uniquely wide perspective of the manufacturing sector it will deliver, will allow our graduates to obtain (and thrive in) positions of significant responsibility in industry and in research facilities/institutes. Ultimately we believe that many will go on to be future research leaders, driving innovation and changing research culture, and thereby making a lasting contribution to the UK economy.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023828/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2579643 Studentship EP/S023828/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Samuel Roberts