Research Themes

Down to Earth: Catalysis Using Earth Abundant Metals
Down to Earth: Catalysis Using Earth Abundant Metals

The overall aim of this research Theme is the development and understanding of catalysis using earth abundant metals. It will focus on developing sustainable methodologies towards carbon-element bond formation using base metal catalysts, to leverage new reactivity and novel/cleaner production methods. The Theme researchers will investigate the design and synthesis of new catalysts, characterisation and mechanism of catalytic reactions, alternative solvents, theory and modelling of reactions, and scale-up of reactions.

The students will gain experience in a range of areas including the following thematic activities:

  • Theory and practical characterisation of catalysts and catalytic reactions
  • Kinetics and mechanism in catalysis
  • Modelling of catalysts and reaction mechanisms
  • Applications, challenges and opportunities for base metal catalysts in industry

Areas that the students could come from: Chemistry, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Natural Sciences, or a closely related subject.

Psus – A Sustainable Phosphorus Future
Psus – A Sustainable Phosphorus Future

Phosphorus compounds fulfil essential roles in all aspects of modern life, from fertilisers and fire retardants to catalysts and pharmaceuticals. However, their synthesis currently relies on highly reactive precursors - such as the chemical weapons precursor PCl3 - and produces unacceptable waste streams. The four project-areas of this Theme will address major challenges in contemporary phosphorus chemistry:

  1. Next-generation ligands from safe, atom-economic building blocks
  2. Novel bioisosteres and 3D scaffolds for drug discovery 
  3. Sustainable, scalable oligonucleotide chemistry for pharmaceutical processes 
  4. Efficient remediation and revalorisation of phosphorus waste

Theme-specific training will include:

  • Contemporary synthetic and organophosphorus chemistry
  • Medicinal chemistry and drug design
  • Kinetic analysis, simulation and computation
  • Process chemistry, engineering and life-cycle analysis

Plastics from Plants Initiative (PPI)
Plastics from Plants Initiative (PPI)

Plastics from Plants Initiative (PPI) aims to develop new materials from sustainable plant-derived, non-food sources replacing petrochemical-derived materials in applications ranging from films/packaging through smart coatings to active therapeutics. This will involve:

  1. Sustainable Monomer/Polymer/Surfactant Generation: for example the development/exploitation of enzymatic, catalytic, biotechnology methods to produce bespoke sustainable monomers, polymers and surfactants
  2. Processing Development: for example additive manufacturing, super-critical carbon dioxide, emulsion/microfluidic/double emulsion, enzymatic and chemical precise post-functionalisation techniques will be used to control assembly or degradation
  3. Exploitation of these new materials in drug delivery, medical devices, cosmetics, personal care, packaging, adhesives, inks and archaeological preservation.

Consequently, each PhD project will be multidisciplinary to link cause and effect when changing the monomer/polymer molecular structure, assessing new materials properties in application-driven screening with both academic and industrial collaborators.

Spectroscopy for Process Intensification and Optimisation
Spectroscopy for Process Intensification and Optimisation

We are seeking to recruit highly motivated students who are eager to work in a multi-disciplinary team involving mathematicians, chemists, physicists, and engineers to develop fully automated multi-step flow photochemical and electrochemical manufacturing processes.  This goal is important because chemical manufacturing is moving towards smaller scale production of a larger number of compounds, leaving less time for process development while still being under pressure to reduce costs and increase production flexibility and efficiency. With the growing interest in sustainability, effective reaction monitoring and rapid process optimisation are crucial for future manufacturing.

This Theme focusses on combining Process Analytical Technology and self-optimisation AI to accelerate efficient chemical manufacturing on the kilogram scale in continuous photo-, electro-, and thermal chemistry processes.  It will blend fundamental science with real world applications to deliver things that are genuinely new. 

The students whom we recruit will gain broad experience in many different areas including:

  • Flow chemistry
  • Process modelling
  • Photo-/electro-chemistry
  • A large variety of spectroscopy including UV/visible, Infrared, Raman and ultrafast time-resolved techniques
  • Interaction with both academia and industry

Theme Lead:  Prof Mike George

Batteries for a Sustainable Future
Batteries for a Sustainable Future

Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized modern life but they are reaching their performance limits. This Research Theme will work towards the development of the next-generation of sustainable battery technologies. The new batteries will have higher energy densities than those of lithium-ion and are necessary for the widespread electrification of transportation.

  • Outline of Theme-specific training activities:
  • Formal training in state-of-the-art battery science
  • Sustainable chemistry
  • Electrochemistry
  • 3D printing
  • Gas separation science

Projects are available in the development of sustainable electrolytes and additives, catalysis, gas scrubbers and cell architecture. Our multidisciplinary team includes experts in chemistry, chemical engineering, manufacturing and physics, and we will collaborate with a range of industrial and academic collaborators. Nottingham is a leading partner in the Faraday Institution, the UK’s national battery research initiative. Projects will align with Faraday Institution goals and students will have the opportunity to collaborate within the network.
Theme Lead:  Dr Lee Johnson 


“Dial-A-Catalyst” is focussed on the development of the new generation of nanocatalysts that combine the best features of homogenous (high activity and selectivity) and heterogeneous catalyst (high stability and recyclability) and their application in some of the most important reactions for the chemical industry (e.g. CO2 utilisation and ammonia synthesis). The unique catalytic properties of the novel nanocatalysis will be evaluated by: (i)- in situ and in operando methods, to understand the interaction between metals and small molecules (e.g. CO2, N2, H2), ii- in catalytic reactions using batch and flow reactors at the laboratory level and at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Siemens semi-industrial nanocatalyst test facility. In this project, we (PhD students and academic mentors) will make a step change in the design and fabrication of nanocatalysts solving a number of challenges of the chemical industry.

Outline of Theme-specific training activities:

  • A large range of synthetic and characterisation methods using cutting edge instrumentation at UoN and Diamond Light Source.
  • Undertake quantum chemical and molecular dynamics computations
  • Industrial training at Siemens/Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Green Ammonia Pilot Plant facility

Available research areas

  • Nanocatalysts: design and synthesis
  • Spectroscopy: studying interactions of metal clusters with small molecules
  • Modelling/computation of materials and catalytic reactions
  • Catalytic processes: e.g. CO2 utilization, ammonia synthesis

Theme Leads: Dr Jesum Alves Fernandes and Prof Tim Wright 

Chemical and Biological Recycling of Plastics
Chemical and Biological Recycling of Plastics

Many plastic waste streams are not suitable for mechanical recycling, and chemical and biological recycling technologies need significant development to become part of the mainstream solution to the plastics crisis.  This theme will work to provide understanding of how different plastics waste streams can be processed, and what sort of new products can be formed (e.g. monomers, platform chemicals, functional porous materials).  This is a complex and multidisciplinary challenge with the potential to generate cutting-edge fundamental research while working with industrial partners to find solutions to the global challenge of plastic waste. 

Candidates from a wide range of backgrounds including chemistry, chemical engineering, computational modelling and biochemistry are invited to apply.

Outline of Theme-specific training activities:

  • Polymer chemistry
  • Processing technologies including microwave, enzymatic and supercritical fluids
  • Valorising products via recovery of oligomers, monomers and functionalised materials
  • Enzyme discovery, production and characterisation
  • Advanced spectroscopic techniques
  • Plastics in the circular economy and life cycle analysis

Available research areas include:

  • Enzymatic polymer degradation and enzymatic valorisation of the resulting stream
  • Novel recycling routes enabled by the unique properties of supercritical fluids
  • Developing microwave technologies for polymer recycling
  • Characterisation and exploitation of landfill plastics

Theme Lead:  Dr Eleanor Binner

AI Designed Catalysis
AI Designed Catalysis

Catalytic formation of C-H, C-C and C-Heteratom bonds is the invisible engine that drives formation of the molecules our society needs.  Classical catalyst optimisation requires thousands of uni-varient optimisations typically moderated by humans. Self-learning algorithms offer opportunities to identify unique patterns in such complex data allowing faster process optimisation.

Late Stage Functionalisation
Late Stage Functionalisation

Late stage functionalisation of complex molecules is increasingly important for producing compound libraries to search for optimal function, and can be faster and more efficient compared with more conventional synthetic approaches where diversification occurs at an early stage. This theme will develop new, state-of-the-art methods for late stage functionalisation.

Towards Circular Processing
Towards Circular Processing

There is a pressing need for society to increase the level of recycling of materials and chemical-based products. The development of industrial processes that embrace circular processing is critical to sustainable development and cleaner manufacturing. This theme will develop novel, highly efficient reactor technologies to deliver products in energy and atom efficient processes with the aim of  'keeping the molecules in play'


Celebrating Diversity

Celebrating Diversity

18 Mar 2021

The EPSRC CDT in Sustainable Chemistry in collaboration with the School of Psychology held the ‘Let’s Talk About Neurodiversity' event