Postgraduate research

Blue bubble crystalsA PhD is an outstanding opportunity to conduct your own research in a subject that you are passionate about. The School of Chemical Engineering at Birmingham is an ideal location for postgraduate research as we are one of the largest centres for postgraduate education of chemical engineers in the UK.

We have pioneered development and research in rapidly expanding new areas such as pharmaceuticals and bioproducts, food processing, hydrogen fuel cells and energy research. To apply or find out more about studying research visit our PhD page. Learn more about our research below:

Formulation engineering

Micromanipulation and Microencapsulation Research Group

Key staff: Zhibing Zhang, Mike Adams
Contact: Professor Zhibing Zhang

Research themes: There are many functional products containing biological and non-biological microscopic particles (or microparticles) over a wide range of industrial sectors including chemical, agrochemical, food and feed, pharmaceutical and medical, human care and household care.

For biological microparticles, understanding their mechanical properties under different physiological states is crucial to bioprocessing and tissue engineering, e.g. animal cell culture to produce monoclonal antibodies, mechanical disruption of yeast and bacteria to extract intracellular proteins, and mechanical stimulation of chondrocytes for cartilage tissue engineering.

Non-biological microparticles should have desirable chemical composition, structures and mechanical properties. Understanding the mechanical properties of such microparticles is essential to predicting their behaviour in manufacturing, handling and performance in end-use applications. Our research focuses on:

Microbial Bioprocessing Group

Key staff: Tim Overton, Mark Simmons, Gary Leeke, Owen Thomas
Contact: Dr Tim Overton

Research themes: Our research concerns molecular microbiology, cell biology, bioprocessing and environmental microbiology. We explore the bioprocessing of microbes to make proteins, small molecules and plastics as well as to enhance food safety.

These include biofilms (both their prevention and creation, e.g. for pharmaceutical production and industrial processes), the recovery of metals from batteries using microbes, and the production of recombinant proteins in bacterial hosts (e.g. in biological systems and E. coli).

We are also interested in green approaches to biopolymer production, bacterial responses during food and waste processing and microbial flow cytometry techniques. The group is involved in collaborations with the School of Biosciences, the Medical School and the Centre for Systems Biology.

Microstructure Engineering Research Group

Key staff: Ian Norton, Tom Mills, Fotis Spyropoulos, Eddie Pelan, Bettina Wolf
Contact: Professor Ian Norton

Research themes: Our research uses microstructural engineering to manipulate the underlying micro- and nano-scale properties of a wide range materials used in the food and nutrition, agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries.

It focuses on the development of novel techniques for encapsulation, food drying and additive manufacturing. It also seeks to develop environmentally friendly ingredients and processes, and to understand the relation between food structures, sensory perception and appetite.

Particle and Multiphase Process Group

Key staff: Peter Fryer, Ian Norton, Tim Overton, Mark Simmons, Jonathan Seville, Andy Ingram, Kit Windows-Yule, Mostafa Barigou, Bettina Wolf, Zhibing Zhang, Federico Alberini, Mike Adams, Daniele Vigolo
Contact: Peter Fryer

Research themes: The mixing and multiphase flow group carries out flow visualisation, mathematical modelling and computational fluid dynamics, focussed on the processing of complex and multiphase fluids. The group has access to optical imaging techniques including Particle Image Velocimetry and Planar Laser Induced Fluorescence. 

We also work on Ghost Particle Velocimetry, a novel method of flow visualisation employing scattered light from nanoparticulate tracers. The group works closely with the Positron Imaging Centre in the School of Physics and Astronomy in the use of the Positron Emission Particle Tracking (PEPT) technique. PEPT was invented at the University and is a variant of the medical imaging technique positron emission tomography (PET) which is used in nuclear medicine. PEPT can be applied to the study of flows and measures of blending/mixing, amongst other many applications. 

Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Formulation Engineering

Key staff: Peter Fryer, Richard Greenwood, Zhenyu Zhang, Federico Alberini, Owen Thomas, Mostafa Barigou, Ian Norton, Tom Mills, Fotis Spyropoulos, Eddie Pelan, Bettina Wolf, Mark Simmons, Gary Leeke, Tim Overton
Contact: Dr Richard Greenwood

Research themes: The EngD in Formulation Engineering is a four-year postgraduate programme of study and research, based mostly in industry. Formulation engineering concentrates on research into the physical, chemical and biological processes that create formulated product structure and the maintenance or breakdown of that structure in use.

Classical process engineering is concerned with the processing of simple chemicals on a bulk scale (e.g. petroleum products and intermediate bulk chemicals), the physical properties of which can be described using thermodynamics. However, modern processes are concerned with the creation and production of materials whose structure is complex for which the process history becomes important.

Examples of these materials include food, pharmaceutical and speciality products such as paints, catalyst supports, polymer films, cosmetics, detergents and agrochemicals, and our research focuses on understanding and controlling their material microstructures and the physical and chemical properties which are essential to their function. 

Downstream Processing and Process Analytical Technology Group

Key staff: Owen Thomas, Tim Overton, Tim Dafforn
Contact: Professor Owen Thomas (

Research themes: Research in this group focuses on advancing radical new downstream processing (DSP) and process analytical technology (PAT) solutions to the growing challenges faced by the bio-manufacturing industries (esp. the biopharmaceutical, plasma fractionation, veterinary medicine, medico-diagnostics sectors).

Three elements – bespoke separation materials/chemicals, bioprocess engineering and PAT monitoring systems – are developed and harmoniously combined for the purposes of eliminating core problems afflicting the current manufacturing platforms of sophisticated of bioproducts (e.g. therapeutic proteins, plasmids, virus and virus-like particles, human cells and magnetosomes).

Work is done on advancing new:

  • surfactant-free technology for the extraction and purification of membrane associated and periplasmic proteins (e.g. SMALPs);
  • multi-functional stationary phases for use in direct capture from unclarified bioprocess feedstocks and in fixed-bed chromatography (employing smart polymers and physico-chemical fabrication methods applied chromatographic and magnetic support starting materials);
  • automated multi-functional continuous bioseparation systems combining capture, concentration, purification and buffer exchange/formulation into a single-unit operation (e.g. expanded bed adsorption, high-gradient magnetic fishing, magnetic micellar aqueous two phase extraction, travelling cooling/heating zone chromatography); and
  • high information content PAT for high-throughput formulation screening and process development and in-line flow through detectors for continuous chromatography systems.

The group conducts research in collaboration with the School of Biosciences, Aston University, University College London and Karlsruhe’s Institute of Technology.   


The Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage 

Key staff: Yulong Ding, Jonathan Radcliffe, Bushra Al-Duri, Yongliang Li, Adriano Sciacovelli, Grant Wilson
Contact: Professor Yulong Ding

Research themes: The Centre consists of two components: the Birmingham Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage and the Birmingham Centre for Thermal Energy Storage. It has expertise in materials, thermodynamic processes, application development, smart grid and policy economics.

Research focuses on how energy storage, particularly thermal and cryogenic energy based technologies, coupled with appropriate policy, could play an important role in delivering an integrated energy system (from enhancing power quality and reliability, transmission network stability and frequency regulation, to dealing with intermittency of renewables and improving infrastructure utilisation of industrial waste energy). This includes cooling (e.g. novel cold storage materials, hybrid engines, and the cold economy) and electrochemistry.

Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research

Key staff: Robert Steinberger-Wilckens, Neil Rees, Shangfeng Du, Artur Majewski, Paula Mendes
Contact: Robert Steinberger-Wilckens

Research themes: Our research is driving both the technology and thinking required to solve some of the challenges facing the UK, as it seeks to develop sustainable solutions to the designing of future cities, energy and transportation. 

We have an internationally recognised programme of research into hydrogen as a future energy vector and the development of key technologies, from sustainable production and hydrogen storage to commercial utilisation, as well as the efficient provision of electricity and heat from fuel cells. In all of these areas, we are working towards making a full hydrogen economy a reality.

Bioenergy Group

Key staff: Andreas Hornung, Miloud Ouadi, Bushra Al-Duri
Contact: Dr Miloud Ouadi

Research themes: Our research group includes experts in biomass and waste conversion technologies specialising in the production of energy and low carbon fuels from waste.

We have established a joint research platform with the Fraunhofer Institute to develop thermo-catalytic reforming (TCR), and technologies for waste processing, producing biodiesel, renewable gasoline, renewable aviation fuel and biohydrogen. The first TCR reactor is now based at the Tyseley Energy Park as part of the ERA thermal energy project.

The bioenergy group is proud to be a developing partner for Tyseley Energy Park, working to create a powerful and exiting new distributed energy.

Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research

Key staff: Robert Steinberger-Wilckens, Ahmad El-kharouf, Neil Rees, Shangfeng Du, Artur Majewski , John Hooper
Contact: John Hooper

Research themes: We have an internationally recognised programme of research into hydrogen as a future energy vector and into fuel cells as one of the key energy conversion technologies of the future, efficiently providing electricity and heat. We cover all aspects from sustainable production and storage of hydrogen to commercial utilisation, as well as the production of carbon-neutral synthetic fuels.

We develop more efficient and cheaper materials for fuel cells, work on more efficient designs, and integrate fuel cell systems into all kinds of vehicles. Aspects such as use of renewable energies, life cycle analysis, and market introduction of innovations complement our research into technology. In all of these areas, we are working towards making a full zero-emission and zero-net carbon energy economy a reality.

Catalysis and Chemical Reaction Engineering Research Group

Key staff: Joe Wood, Mark Simmons, Mostafa Barigou
Contact: Professor Joe Wood

Research themes: Catalysis and Chemical Reaction Engineering lie at the core of many chemical and energy conversion processes. Our expertise ranges from preparation of tailored catalysts and adsorbents through to reactor design and optimisation for industry-specific applications.

Our research focuses on the energy sector, including development and modelling of carbon capture techniques, and on extraction and upgrading of heavy oils. Training of PhD students in heavy oil extraction technologies occurs through our membership of the NERC CDT in Oil and Gas.

We are also part of the EPSRC CDT in Carbon Capture and Storage and Cleaner Fossil Energy.  Our research in Carbon Capture includes the development of advanced adsorbents such as amine-modified activated carbons, and simulation of carbon capture processes based on pressure swing adsorption, which will enable us to estimate the energy penalty of installing them at power plants for pre- and post-combustion capture.

We are also studying bio-based replacements for chemicals and fuels that would normally be manufactured from fossil fuels. A recent area of development also includes the recycling of polymers via chemical methods (e.g. polylactic acid). This will create a new route for remanufacturing of valuable molecules from waste plastics.

Nanoengineering and Surface Chemistry Research Group

Key staff: Paula Mendes, Neil Rees, Mostafa Barigou
Contact: Professor Paula Mendes

Research themes: Our research lies in the interdisciplinary area of nanoscale science. We combine and apply tools and concepts from nanochemistry, supramolecular chemistry, biochemistry and micro- and nanolithography to construct novel structural and functional materials.

All of these efforts are directed at addressing unmet needs in medicine, biology and energy. Currently, our efforts are focused on four major areas:Diagnostic molecular-based technologies; switchable biological surfaces; intracellular nanoscale sensors; andnovel nano-electrocatalysts for proton exchange membrane fuel cells.

Supercritical Fluids Research Group

Key staff: Bushra Al-Duri, Gary Leeke
Contact: Bushra Al-Duri

Research themes: Research in supercritical fluids encompasses the development of chemical, biochemical and bio-processes. In principle, the unique properties of critical fluids have the potential to foster the development of environmentally benign and therefore sustainable processes.As such the Supercritical Fluids research group is multi-disciplinary and encompasses sustainable ‘green’ chemistry and industrial biotechnology. Examples of our research include the extraction of bio-active and high value compounds from plants, seeds and fruits, the supercritical gasification of biomass to produce hydrogen for use in fuel cells, the production of nanoparticles using supercritical methods, and the oxidation of wastes in supercritical water.


Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI)

Key staff: Liam Grover, David Bassett, Sophie Cox, Anita Ghag, Alicia El Haj, Paula Mendes, Anthony Metcalfe, Richard Williams, Mostafa Barigou
Contact: Professor Liam Grover

Research themes: Our multi-disciplinary research focuses on developing new medical technologies that allow quicker diagnose and better treatment of patients. This includes regenerative medicine, bespoke prosthetics, dressings and biomedical devices.

Current research explores bone structures and tissue regeneration, early detection of brain injury and prostate cancer, antibiotic resistance, and healing without scarring. The HTI conducts research in collaboration with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Medical Devices Testing and Evaluation Centre and Aston University.

Advanced Nano-Materials, Structures and Applications Group

Key staff: Pola Goldberg-Oppenheimer
Contact: Pola Goldberg-Oppenheimer

Research themes: We are an interdisciplinary research group exploring the frontiers of micro to nanomaterials engineering while bridging the gap between nano-to-macroscopic-level understanding and implementations of novel hybrid and nanocomposite materials and submicron structures for miniaturised functional devices.

We are part of the Institute of Translational Medicine, and work closely with the clinical teams at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and UoB Enterprise, the university’s technology transfer specialists.

Our research focuses on the design, engineering and manipulation of novel nanocomposite and hybrid materials and structures on the micron and nanometric scale for a broad range of applications in, for instance, microelectronics, diagnostics and photovoltaic cells.

The lifETIME Centre for Doctoral Training

Key staff: Liam Grover, Paula Mendes
Contact: Professor Liam Grover

Research themes: The lifETIME (Engineered Tissues for Discovery, Industry and Medicine) CDT is a partnership between the University of Glasgow, the University of Birmingham, Aston University and CÚRAM – Science Foundation Ireland.

It is a four-year PhD programme which trains engineering, chemistry, physics, mathematics, life science and clinical students in drug discovery and regenerative medicine through development of bioengineered humanised 3D models, microfluidics, diagnostics and sensing platforms.

Research themes include safety and efficacy prediction prior to human clinical trials, validated tissue/disease models and drug target and tissue dose exposure. We aim to change the way drug screening is performed using non-animal technologies and to train the next generation of talent and leadership to drive innovation and contribute to the UK bioeconomy.

Nanofabrication Research Group

Key Staff: Alex Robinson
Contact: Dr Alex Robinson

Research Themes The Nanofabrication group is an interdisciplinary group focusing on materials and processes for fabrication at the nanoscale. We undertake research in to materials for EUV, electron and ion beam resists, ultrahigh carbon spinnable films for high aspect ratio plasma etching, and organic ultra-high Stokes shift fluorphores.

Using novel fabrication approaches such as the integration of top-down lithography with bottom-up self-assembly we are also investigating the fabrication of new devices including biodetectors, novel nanostructured catalyst via synthetic biology approaches, and organic photovoltaics.

Cross-School research

Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulations Research Group

Key staff: Alessio Alexiadis
Contact: Dr Alessio Alexiadis

Research themes: Mathematical modelling and computer simulations are a staple of our modern scientific and technological era: airplanes that take us to the other side of the world are designed with Computation Fluid Dynamics (CFD), drugs that save our lives are developed with Molecular Dynamics (MD) and skyscrapers that define our cities’ skylines are assessed using multiphysics modelling (MM).

On the one hand, the group at Birmingham deals with traditional modelling techniques: e.g. MD for energy applications, DEM for pharmaceutical applications, CFD for microfluidics, and MM for electrochemical applications.

On the other hand, we have developed a novel approach, called Discrete Multiphysics (DMP), particularly suited for medical applications. Additionally, DMP has proven itself particularly effective when coupled with AI. Part of our current research, therefore, focuses on Deep Multiphysics: a common framework that has Discrete Multiphysics and Artificial Neural Networks as special cases. 


Further information about our research.