125th Anniversary Scholarship in the School of Chemical Engineering

A new PhD scholarship for Black British Researchers in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences

PhD Project: Recycling of Carbon Fibre Composites with Deep Eutectic Solvents

This PhD project will be based in the School of Chemical Engineering which is part of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

The deadline for applications closed at 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

About the project

Globally, 62,000 tonnes of high-value, “waste” carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) are sent to landfill each year [1]. There is, therefore, an urgent need to develop sustainable recycling solutions. Pyrolysis, where the polymer is thermally degraded, is the most mature technology, however, the polymer matrix, and its constituents, are lost. The global warming potential of this process is also approximately double that of solvent-based recycling [2]. Historically, these technologies can be divided into either low temperature, or high temperature processes. Low temperature processes involve the use of particularly hazardous solvents, acids, or bases, while high temperature conditions result in a high energy demand [3]. For these reasons, this project will harness the power of deep eutectic solvents (DES) to develop a medium temperature, closed loop recycling process. DES consist of large ions and are usually obtained by combining a quaternary ammonium salt (such as choline chloride) with a metal salt. The molar ratio used is that which gives the lowest melting point of the mixture, hence the name “eutectic” [4]. Although there has been some work on the application of DESs to the recycling of carbon fibre [5], research in this field remains in its infancy.

For this reason, this project will involve evaluating the performance of a range of DESs to assess their ability to degrade the resin of a commercially available CFRP. Following this, it will be necessary to identify and quantify the organic products obtained and develop a separation process which enables the recovery of clean carbon fibres, organic products, and the DES. To ensure high quality material is generated, a range of characterisation techniques will be applied to the recovered carbon fibres. At the end of the project, the recovered fibres and organic products will be used together to create a fully recycled new composite material.

Although well-defined, there is scope to adjust the project aims according to your own goals. Initially, it is suggested that choline chloride is investigated. This is because it is non-toxic, relatively cheap, and produces negligible waste during production, which reflects the green chemistry and engineering principles embedded in this project. Chemical analyses available includes GCMS, FTIR, TGA, and NMR, although you can investigate further techniques. Similarly, fibre characterisation tests include tensile strength, XPS, AFM, single fibre pull-out, and Raman spectroscopy, however, you will be able to explore the use of other methods as you see fit.

You will benefit from the expertise of three academic supervisors. Your primary supervisor, Dr. Matthew Keith, completed his PhD is 2019 and has five years' experience in the recycling of CFRPs. His work has involved optimisation studies and the development of kinetic models which characterise the degradation reaction, along with characterisaton of the fibrous and organic recyclates. Before rejoining the University as a member of staff, Matthew worked for Johnson Matthey for 2.5 years. Here, he gained significant experience in catalysis, chemical processing, and project management, in addition to providing mentorship to new members of staff. Your secondary supervisor will be Dr. Andrew Ingram. He has >25 years’ experience in academic and industrial research which spans a range of sustainable chemical technologies, alongside expertise in unit operations. He has a strong track record of research excellence with ~2000 citations since 2018. He has supervised 18 PhD students to completion, thus demonstrating his exceptional coaching and mentoring ability, in addition to his technical, chemical engineering knowledge. Finally, additional supervision by Prof. Gary Leeke will bring additional expertise in separation and processing technologies. He has published over 130 papers in peer reviewed journals, three patents and has held numerous advisory roles for industry and government bodies.


  1. A. Isa, N. Nosbi, M. Che Ismail, H. Md Akil, W. F. F. Wan Ali, and M. F. Omar, “A Review on Recycling of Carbon Fibres: Methods to Reinforce and Expected Fibre Composite Degradations,” Materials, vol. 15, no. 14, pp. 4991–5022, Jul. 2022, doi: 10.3390/ma15144991.
  2. F. Meng, E. A. Olivetti, Y. Zhao, J. C. Chang, S. J. Pickering, and J. McKechnie, “Comparing Life Cycle Energy and Global Warming Potential of Carbon Fiber Composite Recycling Technologies and Waste Management Options,” ACS Sustain Chem Eng, vol. 6, no. 8, pp. 9854–9865, Aug. 2018, doi: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.8b01026.
  3. G. Oliveux, L. O. Dandy, and G. A. Leeke, “Current status of recycling of fibre reinforced polymers: Review of technologies, reuse and resulting properties,” Prog Mater Sci, vol. 72, pp. 61–99, Jul. 2015, doi: 10.1016/j.pmatsci.2015.01.004.
  4. E. L. Smith, A. P. Abbott, and K. S. Ryder, “Deep Eutectic Solvents (DESs) and Their Applications,” Chem Rev, vol. 114, no. 21, pp. 11060–11082, Nov. 2014, doi: 10.1021/cr300162p.
  5. C.-W. Liu, W.-J. Hong, B.-T. Yang, C.-W. Lin, L.-C. Wang, and C.-C. Chen, “Switchable deep eutectic solvents as efficient and sustainable recycling media for carbon fiber reinforced polymer composite waste,” J Clean Prod, vol. 378, p. 134334, Dec. 2022, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2022.134334.

Entry Requirements

Applicants will be expected to have a Masters degree awarded by a recognised University in a Chemistry, Chemical Engineering or a related discipline is the main criteria; ideally, this would include some lab-based research but this is not essential.

Who can apply?

These scholarships are designed to create opportunities and address the underrepresentation of talented Black or Black mixed heritage students in academia. Applicants who meet all of the following criteria are eligible to apply:

  1. UK nationals and eligible for registration as Home students
  2. Members of one of the following ethnic groups:
    • Black African
    • Black Caribbean
    • Black Other
    • Mixed – White and Black Caribbean
    • Mixed – White and Black African
    • Other mixed background (to include Black African, Black Caribbean or Black Other)
  3. Not already enrolled on a PhD programme at the University of Birmingham

What does the scholarship provide?

  1. Financial Support: Recipients of these scholarships will receive substantial financial support, including a stipend at UKRI rates, which is set at £18,622 per year. This support covers tuition fees, living expenses, and research-related costs, including bench fees. This support is designed to alleviate the financial burden often associated with pursuing a doctoral degree.
  2. Mentorship and Guidance: Scholarship recipients will benefit from mentorship opportunities and guidance from accomplished faculty members who are dedicated to helping them succeed in their academic and research endeavours.
  3. Research Opportunities: We are committed to providing an exceptional research environment. Students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge resources, and a vibrant scholarly community.
  4. Community Building: A key component of the scholarship programme is the creation of a supportive community of Black British researchers pursuing PhDs. This network will foster collaboration and peer support among scholars.
  5. Research Training Support Grant: In addition to financial support, scholarship recipients will receive a research training support grant. This grant is intended to support conference attendance, fieldwork, and other essential activities that enhance their research and academic growth.
  6. Commitment to Inclusivity: We are dedicated to building an inclusive academic environment that values diversity and ensures equitable access to education.

Contact the lead supervisor

Once applicants have familiarised themselves with the above project details, they are encouraged to contact the lead PhD supervisor to discuss the project and the applicant's suitability for the project. This is recommended before you submit an application to the PhD project.

How to apply

After applicants have made contact with the lead PhD supervisor, you will then need to apply to the PhD project using our online application portal: you should select '125th Anniversary Scholarships (EPS)'. You will need to create an account for the online application portal and you will be prompted to sign-in upon your return to the portal.

You do not need to complete your application in one session; you can save your application at each stage and return to the portal at any stage before submission, particularly if you do not have all of the necessary documents when you begin your application.

As this is an 'advertised PhD', in which you will studying the above project that has already been provided by the academic supervisor(s), you do not need to submit a research proposal. Your personal statement will suffice for determining your suitability for the PhD project as well as your previous academic, professional and personal experiences.

The deadline for applications closed at 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

For your application you will need to submit the following documents:

Personal Statement

You will need a personal statement of approximately 5,000 characters, explaining why you are interested in researching the above PhD project. This can be uploaded to the personal statement section in a PDF or Microsoft Word format. Alternatively, you can type this within the application portal.

The personal statement is an opportunity to make yourself stand out from other applicants and demonstrate how you are the most suitable candidate. You should explain your motivations for applying to the PhD project and how the PhD will help you achieve your future goals and aspirations. You may wish to outline and explain how your previous academic experiences have prepared you for PhD study, such as a specific module, research piece or dissertation in your Bachelors or Masters degree. Similarly, you should detail the skills that you have developed in any relevant academic, professional or personal contexts that would make you a suitable PhD student for the above project.


On your application, you will have been asked for contact details of one or two references. For some courses, you will need the references before a decision to be made.

Please make sure you tell your references to expect contact from the University of Birmingham via email, requesting their reference. Please note that the contact email address of the referee must be an official email address and not a personal one (for example, gmail). We recommend that the referee sends back the reference in a PDF format as it is preferred if:

  • The reference is on official headed paper with the organisation or university’s logo and address
  • It includes the date, your details and the details of the referee
  • A summary of how they know you and confirm your suitability for studying on the course you have applied for
  • It should be signed by the referee with their official contact details.

If both your referees send back references which are not on official headed paper, you may be asked to send in additional references.

If you already have a written reference(s) and want to upload it on behalf of your referee(s), make sure the reference is a scanned copy of the original and that it is on official headed paper.

If you input your referee details, your referees will receive a reference request email from us as soon as you submit your application. When a referee provides the reference by clicking on the link in the reference request email, it will be automatically uploaded to your application.

A referee can also provide a reference by emailing it to us directly via pgadmissions@contacts.bham.ac.uk, it should be sent from their official email address and contain their full name and role. Once the email has been received, it will be sent for processing so that it can be uploaded to your application.

Your online portal will be updated when a reference has been received and processed but please allow at least 15 working days for this. If your portal has not been updated, this does not necessarily mean that the references have not been received as there can be a delay with the processing of references.

Please note that for the vast majority of our programmes, we do not require references in order for a decision to be made and your application will still be processed as usual. If an offer is made and the references are still outstanding, they will form part of the conditions of the offer.

Academic certificate and transcript(s) for all prior degrees

If you have graduated

You will have been asked to upload a scan of your original or certified copies of your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) on the Postgraduate Application Portal.

If you have not done so already, you can go back into the portal to upload your documents. Otherwise your application cannot be considered.

Please be prepared to send in your original or certified copies of your documents if the Admissions team requests to verify them.

If you don’t have certified copies of your documents and would prefer not to send the original, you can get copies certified by either the institution where you studied or by a notary.

If you are currently a student

You will have been asked to upload an interim transcript from your latest exams.

If you have not done so already, you can go back into the portal to upload your interim transcript. Otherwise your application cannot be considered.

Please be prepared to send in your original or certified copies of your degree certificate and final transcript upon graduation if the Admissions team requests to verify them.

If you don’t have certified copies of your documents and would prefer not to send the original, you can get copies certified by either the institution where you studied or by a notary.

Sample Work

If you are required to submit a piece of example work— usually a short written piece (common for programmes such as Creative Writing or English Literature); music composition or performance for those looking to study music related programmes— you will be notified by the academic tutor before they can access and make a decision on your application.

Please make sure you submit these as soon as possible and in the format requested by the academic tutor.

Application portal tips

  • You don’t need to complete your application in one session. Simply save it and come back to it when you’re ready.
  • Avoid delays by checking all your information is accurate and complete.
  • Your application won’t be processed until you’ve completed all the relevant sections and submitted it.
  • If you run into any technical issues with your application, email us at directapplicationsystem@contacts.bham.ac.uk

What happens next?

Once you’ve submitted your application, we’ll send you details on how to access your applicant portal. You’ll be able to track the progress of your application, update your personal information, view decisions and accept offers.

Your application will be ‘pending’ on your portal while we check your application.

You can add or edit some details or documents within your application after it’s been submitted through your applicant portal. Or email pgadmissions@contacts.bham.ac.uk (include your applicant ID number) and we can add or edit for you.

  • Campus - Aston Webb

    125 years of the University of Birmingham

    In 2025, we’ll celebrate 125 years since the Royal Charter was granted. Founded in 1900, Birmingham represented a new model for higher education, as England's first civic university, a place where students of all backgrounds were accepted on an equal basis. One of the ways we’re celebrating this 125th anniversary is by making a significant investment in our research students. Birmingham is an outstanding place to live and carry out your research. Join us as we celebrate our 125th anniversary, and be part of our ambitious, exciting future. You will play an important part in driving the excellence of our research to make an even greater difference to the world around us.

Find out more

For more information about the scholarship programme, including announcements of available projects and the application process, please register your interest using the form below.