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Towards NetZero: Sustainable Binders for Mineral Rock Wool Insulation


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Friday 31 May 2024
Project start date
Tuesday 1 October 2024
Country eligibility
International (open to all nationalities, including the UK)
Source of funding
External organisation
Professor John Blacker and Professor Rik Drummond-Brydson
Additional supervisors
Industry Supervisor
School of Chemical and Process Engineering
Research groups/institutes
Materials characterisation
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

Mineral rock wool is a fibrous material formed by spinning or drawing molten mineral or rock material such as slag and ceramic. It retains its flexible, low-density, structure with binders that are spray coated onto the fibres. Thermal treatment induces monomer polymerisation and adhesive properties help bind the fibres together to give a highly efficient thermal insulation product. This project aims to understand the effect that these coatings of sustainable organic binders have on the physical and mechanical properties of mineral rock wool and related materials. The project is suitable for an enthusiastic scientist or engineer interested in multi-disciplinary research with a higher-level Bachelors and Masters degrees in a chemical, material or engineering field. The successful applicant will develop analytical skills in electron microscopy and surface analysis, material science, mechanical and chemical properties. We wish to understand in more detail how sustainable sugar-based binders coat mineral wool substrates and provide the adhesion that gives the important insulation product properties observed. This information will be used to understand failure modes within the structure leading to design and testing of improved sustainable binders.<br /> <br /> The industry sponsor and partner in this project are world leaders in this field. This product, and related ones, such as Ecose&trade;, are sold widely and impact greatly upon reducing greenhouse gas emissions by improving the efficiency of domestic and commercial energy consumption. The results of this project will address to these globally important aims. It is expected that the student will spend up to 3 months in the industry sponsor&rsquo;s labs, to help translate findings or use equipment or methods not available at the University of Leeds, and to observe industry working practices and procedures.<br /> <br /> The academic supervisors are Professor Rik Drummond-Brydson is a Chair in Nanomaterials Characterisation and coordinates the Leeds Electron Microscopy and Spectroscopy (LEMAS) Centre in the School of Chemical and Process Engineering and Bragg Centre for Materials Research at the University of Leeds. He will advise on the use materials characterisation methods and associated data interpretation to study the chemical microstructure of the materials. Professor Blacker is Chair of Process Chemistry and has relevant industrial and academic experience in process development and scale-up. He is the deputy director of the Molecule to Product Centre for Doctoral Training.

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p style="text-align:justify">The work will characterise different mineral rock and glass wool substrate binder combinations to understand the nature of the coating and to relate this to the microstructure and product performance. Commercial glass and rock wool samples will be evaluated to determine density, porosity, specific surface area, air permeability and anisotropic factor along with physical measurements such as compressibility, stress/strain and thermal conductivity. Then, a variety of electron microscopy techniques will be used to understand how the binder coats the glass fibres. We will use 3D serial sectioning techniques in a new plasma focused ion beam scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM) to produce 3D images of the fibre structure and to chemically map surface layers using in-situ time of flight mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS). If appropriate we can evaluate the surface using X-ray microtomography with resolution at 1 micron. We will use X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy to map binder distribution and determine the location and concentration of carbon, nitrogen and possibly oxygen elements associated with the binder. It may be possible to determine the degree of cross-linking and monomer to polymer ratios. In addition, analytical transmission electron microscopy (TEM) will give further higher resolution insight into the layering and adhesion of glass fibres.&nbsp;</p> <p>The acetal/aldehyde group within single or mixed saccharides are effective monomers in glass wool applications and these react with cross-linkers, that are typically bifunctional diamines or ureas, to produce polymeric imines and water. The aim is to identify binders that are resistant to the high temperatures and harsh conditions that rock wool is exposed to in its industrial application. Discussion with the industry partner will help determine which combinations should be evaluated. The materials will be compared with existing products where binder stability and product integrity are key indicators.</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the Planned Course of Study section that you are applying for <em><strong>PhD Chemical &amp; Process Engineering FT </strong></em>and in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is <em><strong>Towards NetZero: Sustainable Binders for Mineral Rock Wool Insulation</strong></em> as well as&nbsp;<a href="">Professor John Blacker</a> as your proposed supervisor.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p><em>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</em></p> <p class="MsoNoSpacing">Applications will be considered on an ongoing basis. &nbsp;Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors for an informal discussion before making a formal application. &nbsp;We also advise that you apply at the earliest opportunity as the application and selection process may close early, should we receive a sufficient number of applications or that a suitable candidate is appointed.</p> <p>Please note that you must provide the following documents in support of your application by the closing date of 31 May 2024:</p> <ul> <li>Full Transcripts of all degree study or if in final year of study, full transcripts to date</li> <li>Personal Statement outlining your interest in the project</li> <li>CV</li> <li>Funding information:&nbsp; Industry Partner Studentship</li> </ul>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p class="MsoNoSpacing">A highly competitive Industry Partner Studentship, offering the award of fees at the UK fee rate of &pound;4,712 or Non-UK fee rate of &pound;26,500 (currently for academic session 2023/24), together with a tax-free maintenance grant (currently &pound;18,622 for academic session 2023/24) for 3.5 years.</p> <p>This opportunity is open to all applicants. All candidates will be placed into the Industry Partner Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.<br /> <br /> <strong>Important:</strong>&nbsp; Any costs associated with your arrival at the University of Leeds to start your PhD including flights, immigration health surcharge/medical insurance and Visa costs are <em><strong>not</strong></em> covered under this studentship.</p> <p>Please refer to the&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for&nbsp;information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information about this project, please contact Professor John Blacker by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about your application, please contact Doctoral College Admissions by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p>