Materials for Energy and Electronics

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Postgraduate Projects

The MEE group has a range of projects available for self-funding postgraduate research masters and PhD students. Opportunities for funded PhD studentship will also be advertised on the group webpage when these are available. Some examples of postgraduate research projects are detailed below and we would strongly encourage students interested in these to contact the supervisors associated with them.

Heritage and Forensic Science

Supervisor: Multiple potential supervisors across the MEE Group with efforts led by Dr Donna Arnold, Co-director of the Centre for Heritage

Understanding the history of our cultural heritage as well at its preservation is critical if we are to be able to protect artefacts for the future. Identifying materials present as a result of the artefact, its storage, it proximity to other materials and/or recovery are crucial to develop remedial processes or optimise protective display environments. Likewise, identifying materials present in trace evidence are important for comparison and being able to weigh up evidential value. These projects look to utilise complementary techniques such as x-ray diffraction, electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy to understand cultural heritage artefacts and trace evidence with forensic value.

 

The search for new ferrotoroidal materials

Supervisor: Dr Donna Arnold

Multiferroic materials (those with electric and magnetic ordering) continue to attract extensive research attention due to their potential in next generation devices particularly higher power, lower energy electronic devices. However, generation of these materials is not without challenges primarily as a result of difficulties trying to incorporate magnetic and electrically active ions into a single phase. One class of materials which offers real promise in this area are ferrotoroidal materials which simultaneously show electric ordering arising as a result of toroidal order of magnetic spins. Projects will look to provide a deeper understanding of ferrotoroidicty through the synthesis and characterisation of new ferrotoroidal materials.

 

Antiferroelectric materials for energy storage

Supervisor: Dr Donna Arnold

Energy storage materials remain at the forefront of tackling climate change. In order to continue to move towards a carbon neutral society we need a variety of energy storage systems that can operate and store energy in different ways to meet the variety of needs. Antiferroelectric materials exhibit and antiparallel ordering of the electric dipole and offer enhanced storage capacities with smaller losses in comparison with other types of electric order. However, our understanding of what drives antiferroelectric order and how to optimise it is still lacking. Projects in this area will look to develop new antiferroelectric materials (synthesis and characterisation) and crucially look to bridge the gap between discovery and optimisation providing new insight into these materials.

 

Understanding novel magnetic topographies in geometrically frustrated materials

Supervisor: Dr Donna Arnold

Frustration in magnetic materials occurs when the underlying crystal structure is incompatible with supporting antiferromagnetic (antiparallel) spin order. Often in these materials exotic magnetic behaviour can be realised alongside exciting quantum phenomena. We have been looking to understand how to synthesise materials with new magnetic topographies and to understand the role these play in promoting particular magnetic orders. Projects in this area will look at the synthesis and characterisation of new magnetic materials with the aim of continuing to understand the compositional flexibility in these materials and develop new understanding.

 

Induction effect in Polyanion compounds used in energy storage cathodes

Supervisor: Dr Maria Alfredsson

Current research on cathode materials in Li-ion batteries is too a large degree focused on nickel manganese oxides with variable content of cobalt (Co) to achieve voltages above 4V. From an environmental aspect Co is an unwanted element. In this project you will combine computational chemistry with machine learning to identify alternative materials as potential cathodes in Li-ion batteries. One type of materials, polyanionic compounds, will form the basis of this study varying the cations and anions in the structure.

 

Aqueous Batteries reaching above 2 V

Supervisor: Dr Maria Alfredsson

Batteries running on water as opposed to organic solvents struggle to work at a voltage above 1.7V as the water breaks down. In this project you will be challenged to find novel chemistry solutions to develop and design aqueous batteries, which can be used in healthcare devices. The battery need to work above 2V, required to power the sensors used to monitor the patient. Another aim of the project is to identify materials that comply with the above criteria, while being biocompatible, as well as biodegradable or recyclable.

 

Printed batteries for health care devices and sensors

Supervisor: Dr Maria Alfredsson

In our search for energy storage solutions with higher capacity, voltage and safety, much research has focussed on finding alternative electrode materials, which contain active material; binders; carbon additives etc. However, the common binder, polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF), is a non-polar molecule, requiring the use of an organic solvent, N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), recently added to the restricted substances list. Aqueous soluble binders, replacing PVDF, can lead to improved battery performance and introduce safer manufacturing solutions. These batteries can be applied to sensors for healthcare and environmental monitoring. The aim of this project is to develop aqueous inks for flexible printed energy storage solutions in light-weight flexible batteries.

 

Titania-based aerogels for environmental remediation

Supervisor: Professor Anna Corrias

The aim of this project is to design highly efficient and non-toxic titania-based aerogels for cost effective water remediation. Aerogels, which are sponge-like materials, with up to 98% of their total volume being air (hence the name), are very well suited because of their intrinsic adsorption properties. The aerogels developed in this project will combine superhydrophobic properties with photo-catalytic activity provided by titania to easily degrade pollutants in waste waters. The project involves the use of sol-gel to synthetise the aerogels, a multi-technique approach to characterise them in detail and photo-catalysis tests.

 

Functional Materials by Design

Supervisor: Professor Mark Green

The synthesis and characterization of new functional materials is vital for future development. Our research program focusses on new electronic and energy such as new solar, battery and magnetic materials. Global warming is dangerously high and radical energy changes are required. The sun generates enough energy to provide the world with all its power demands many times over. We develop new cheap and efficient photovoltaic perovskite materials for solar applications. We synthesis and characterise new Magnetic Materials that are used extensively in electronic applications and are key for the development of quantum computing.

 

LATP glass-ceramic electrolytes to advance battery technology for a low carbon future

Supervisor: Dr. Gavin Mountjoy

Batteries are essential for consistent supply of electricity from renewable sources, and for electric vehicles.  Using solid electrolytes in batteries improves safety and sustainability by removing organics.  Introducing glass in the solid electrolyte lowers the working temperature which reduces energy expenditure and enables more applications.  This project will focus on lithium alumino-titano-phosphate (LATP) glass-ceramics with promising Li ion conductivity.  The literature on lithium-air batteries, solid electrolytes, and LATP will be reviewed.  LATP will be synthesized, and Li ion conductivity will be measured.  Molecular dynamics (MD) modelling will be used to simulate the Li ion conductivity in LATP.

 

Developing low dimensional transition metal frameworks for efficient cryogenic cooling

Supervisor: Dr Paul Saines

Cooling to temperatures below 20 K is key for quantum computing, medical imaging and liquefaction for the hydrogen economy. Magnetocalorics offer an efficient solid-state method for such cryogenic cooling, via an entropically drive process driven by cycled magnetic fields; magnetocalorics offer a replacement for increasingly scarce and expensive liquid helium. We have recently shown that frameworks with ferromagnetic lanthanide chains with weaker coupling between them via polyatomic ligands are promising magnetocalorics. We will explore frameworks incorporating 3d metals into similar 1D structures to develop more sustainable magnetocalorics. It will provide training in coordination framework synthesis, crystal structure analysis and magnetic property characterisation.

 

Diversifying the chemistry of hybrid perovskites for clean energy

Supervisor: Dr Paul Saines

There is tremendous interest in ABX3 hybrid perovskites, that combine inorganic and organic components into a single structure, for energy harvesting. They can host a wide range of monovalent molecular building blocks but this restricts them to only having A+ and B2+ cations. This reduces the chemical diversity of hybrids compared to inorganic perovskites, which plays a key role in the latter’s myriad applications. Recently we have realised hybrid perovskites that combine monovalent and divalent organic ligands, offering a route to optimise them for sensing and harvesting waste mechanical energy. We will explore new perovskites with other charge combinations to further optimise them.

 

Metal-organic frameworks for cathodes for alkali-metal batteries

Supervisor: Dr Paul Saines

We are heavily dependent on Li-ion batteries for storing clean energy creating a need for new cathode materials that both enhance capacity and cyclability but also allow us to replace Li with cheaper, more abundant alkali metals. The redox properties of oxalate ligands has been recently shown to lead to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) cathodes with enhanced cyclability and capacity. This should be enhanced by the increased conjugation in related ligands so we will exploit the underexplored chemistry of fumarate frameworks combining alkali and transition metals for new cathode materials. The project will provide training in MOF synthesis, structural characterisation and battery preparation/testing.

 

Thermal and shock processing of planetary analogue materials

Supervisor: Dr Jon Tandy

Most planetary bodies experience large fluctuations in their temperature, harsh cosmic irradiation and crater forming impacts. Understanding the chemical and mineralogical modification of planetary materials by thermal and impact (shock) processing is therefore crucial for the interpretation of samples retrieved by current and future space missions. A suite of analytical techniques (XRD, SEM-EDS, Raman spectroscopy, AES and XRF) will therefore be used to characterise thermal and shock processed planetary analogue materials. Temperature variation will be mimicked using a cryogenic cold finger under high vacuum, with shock processing achieved using a light gas gun to simulate hypervelocity projectile impacts of meteoroids.