My research is focussed on the design of catalyst materials for the generation of biobutanol, a sustainable fuel alternative, from fermentation liquors, which might otherwise go to waste.
Globally, we still rely on fossil fuel resources to fulfil most of our energy needs, and our demand for energy is only growing annually.
The burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to the emission of harmful greenhouse gases that are the cause of rising global temperatures; on top of this, fossil fuel sources are rapidly depleting and cannot be replenished, creating an energy crisis. Whilst rapid improvements have been made in the production of electricity from wind, solar and tidal energy, alongside large improvements in the performance of electric vehicles, there is currently no alternative to liquid transportation fuels for long haul air and sea transport.
It is, therefore, imperative that we find alternative, sustainable carbon sources to produce fuels and the many other valuable chemicals which are obtained from the petrochemical industry.
Biobutanol is a promising sustainable fuel alternative which can be produced by the fermentation of biomass sources, or through the transformation of bioethanol to biobutanol via the Guerbet reaction. My research is currently focussed on the separation of biobutanol from low concentration, aqueous fermentation broths from the various other impurities present. I use both the theoretical and practical skills that I learnt throughout my chemistry undergraduate degree to design materials that can be used to selectively asorb butanol from complex mixtures on a molecularlevel.
I use computational modelling to predict a materials characteristics and performance before synthesising it in the laboratory and testing its performance in the separation process.
Post 16 Education: A Levels Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Maths
Higher Education: MSc Chemistry
Why did you choose to research catalysis?
I wanted to pursue this research topic because it is so relevant to some of the most important issues that we are facing in society now. I loved the fact that I could use my degree to help in the fight against climate change. This means that my project is extremely motivating with a clear end goal, and the multidisciplinary nature means that my work is very varied and no one day is the same as the next.
Sam’s experience as a student
My undergraduate degree was very exciting because alongside lectures and seminars, we spent a lot of time in the laboratory carrying out practical chemistry experiments. This meant that I was not always sat down at a desk, but instead working in a busy lab, interacting with my peers, and putting the theory that I learnt in my lectures into practice.
As part of my undergraduate degree I was able to carry out a research project with the chemical company ICoNiChem, during which I visited their factory and witnessed industrial scale chemical synthesis first hand.
My advice would be to take every opportunity that is presented to you.
It is important to gain experience in as many areas as you can; even if the outcome isn’t always positive, you will still have learnt a lot and these experiences will help to shape you into a well-rounded scientist. I am involved in a number of projects alongside my PhD research, and they are all benefitting me in different ways!
Loughborough University offers undergraduate degrees (BSc and MChem) in:
Chemistry, Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Natural Sciences, Chemistry and Computing.