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Future Carbon-Neutral Fuels: The Chemistry of Ammonia on Steel Surfaces


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Monday 29 April 2024
Project start date
Tuesday 1 October 2024
Country eligibility
UK only
Competition funded
Source of funding
Doctoral training partnership
Dr David Harbottle and Professor Sven Schroeder
School of Chemical and Process Engineering
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

This project will examine how ammonia, a carbon-free fuel considered a replacement for diesel, impacts on the longevity and performance of existing engine technologies. There is a global effort, both through industrial R&amp;D and fundamental research, to develop ammonia fuel technology, especially for maritime transport of goods and power generation. A major innovation challenge is the unknown effect of ammonia on the internal steel surfaces of engines, especially corrosion by ammonia oxidation products (NOx). This project will systematically examine the interfacial chemistry of ammonia on steel surfaces, with a special focus on how ammonia affects the performance of lubricants in the prevention of corrosion and wear of steel surfaces. The project aims to generate a systematic understanding of the relevant surface chemistries by applying state-of-the-art surface analytical infrastructure in the Bragg Centre at Leeds and at Diamond Light Source, the UK&rsquo;s national synchrotron radiation source. At the core of the project will be near-ambient pressure (NAP) X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and near-edge X-ray absorption fine-structure (NEXAFS) measurements, which will identify the surface reactions of pure ammonia and its mixtures with other fuels (e.g., diesel and hydrogen) on clean and lubricated steel surfaces. Measurements will be performed in situ under simulated engine conditions, as a function of temperature, pressure and time. High-resolution electron and X-ray microscopies will visualise the microscopic changes associated with steel corrosion and deposition of reaction products formed with lubricant components. This work will be complemented by the use of infrared and terahertz spectroscopies to probe both surface interactions and ammonia reactions with components in the liquid lubricant phase.

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

<p>There is a considerable global effort, both through industrial R&amp;D and fundamental research, to develop the use of ammonia as a fuel replacing fossil fuel oils in applications such as maritime transportation and power generation.1&ndash;3 A challenge for innovation is the unknown effect of interfacial reactions by ammonia on the internal steel surfaces of combustion engines, including corrosion by its oxidation products (NOx). The polarity and reactivity of ammonia: especially wear and corrosion at the surfaces of engine components need to be mitigated with new or modified lubricant technologies. Very little is known about how ammonia interacts with the various components of typical lubricants (e.g., organic zinc compounds, organic friction modifiers, surfactant-stabilised calcium carbonate nanoparticle detergents, the base oil of the lubricant itself, etc.) when in contact with steel surfaces, and indeed in the liquid lubricant phases not in contact with steel surfaces. Even the basic molecular interactions of co-adsorbed ammonia and water (which forms during combustion) with steel surfaces are not very well understood. This presents a real opportunity for an early career researcher to build economically relevant understanding using the near-ambient pressure surface analysis infrastructure of the Bragg Centre at Leeds and of Diamond Light Source ( to study surface chemistry and relate it to interactions in the liquid lubricant phase.</p> <div> <table vspace="0"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <p>1.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Herbinet, O., Bartocci, P. &amp; Grinberg Dana, A. On the use of ammonia as a fuel &ndash; A perspective. Fuel Commun. 11, 100064 (2022).</p> <p>2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Dimitriou, P. &amp; Javaid, R. A review of ammonia as a compression ignition engine fuel. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 45, 7098&ndash;7118 (2020).</p> <p>3.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Machaj, K. et al. Ammonia as a potential marine fuel: A review. Energy Strateg. Rev. 44, (2022).</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table> </div>

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

<p class="MsoNoSpacing">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&nbsp;<em><strong>EPSRC DTP Engineering &amp; Physical Sciences</strong></em>&nbsp;(if you do not apply to this programme code, your application will not be considered) and in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is&nbsp;<em><strong>Future Carbon-Neutral Fuels: The Chemistry of Ammonia on Steel Surfaces</strong></em>&nbsp;as well as <a href="">Professor Sven Schroeder</a>&nbsp;as your proposed supervisor. Please state in the Finance section that the funding source you are applying for is&nbsp;<em><strong>EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership 2024/25:&nbsp; Chemical &amp; Process Engineering</strong></em>.</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>Applications will be considered after the closing date. &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 29 April 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> </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 EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship offering the award of fees, together with a tax-free maintenance grant (currently &pound;18,622 for academic session 2023/24) for 3.5 years.&nbsp; Training and support will also be provided.</p> <p>This opportunity is open to UK applicants only.&nbsp; All candidates will be placed into the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.</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 Sven L M Schroeder by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about your application, please contact&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked funding opportunities</h3>
<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>