Carbon Foams and Hydrogen from Zero Emission Fossil Fuels University of Lancaster Department of Engineering United Kingdom


A four-year fully funded PhD studentship for UK/EU citizens is available at the Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre for Materials Social Futures to start in October 2019. The focus of the project is on the synthesis of carbon foams from zero emission fossil fuels.

Background: Recently, it was shown that hydrogen can be produced from methane using molten metals, which convert methane into hydrogen and carbon with no production of CO2. The method consists of using a molten metal alloy system, in which active catalysts such as Ni, Pt or Pd are dissolved in low-melting temperature metals such as In, Ga, Sn or Pb. It was shown that methane could reach a conversion as high as 95% at 1065 °C when using a Ni-Bi alloy, producing pure hydrogen and carbon. The produced carbon is insoluble in the liquid metal alloy and floats to the surface, making it easier to separate. This is an extremely exciting prospect, as it would allow the production of hydrogen from fossil fuels with no carbon dioxide emissions. To close the loop, the generated solid carbon could be used as a precursor to value-added commodities or materials, and could displace carbon emissions resulting from those.

Project: This PhD project will investigate the production of hydrogen using molten catalyst methods, focussing on the possible uses of the generated solid carbon, particularly the synthesis of carbon foams. Carbon foams are carbon materials with macropores connected in an open cell structure, usually synthesised from precursor resins or from templated carbonisation of carbon precursors. Carbon foams have also been produced from compression of graphite or from the assembly of graphene nanosheets. They have found many applications, including as electrodes or adsorbent materials, and their thermal properties have made them candidates for uses in thermal management applications, including in power electronics and as materials for heat exchangers. They have also been suggested as potential construction materials and were considered a good candidate for structural applications.


The project will design a process for the manufacture of carbon foams obtained from the catalytic decomposition of fossil fuels (oils or gases), such that the hydrogen can be stored for later use and the carbon can be used as a precursor for carbon foam production. This will require investigating different catalyst alloys, designing separation methods that allow the removal of the solid carbon and investigating synthesis routes for carbon foams from the generated solid carbon. The project will also investigate ways of designing a process so that the waste heat from the exothermic catalytic process can be harvested for energy conversion or for the synthesis of carbon foams. 

Person specification: The project would be ideally suited for a student with a background in physical sciences or engineering, especially in Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics or Materials Science, with laboratory experience and with interests in clean and sustainable technologies. The supervisors for the project are Dr Nuno Bimbo ( and Dr Richard Dawson (, both at Engineering, and Prof Mark Shackleton, at LUMS ( Informal enquiries about the project to the supervisors are more than welcome. The deadline for applications is the 5th July and the project is scheduled to start in October 2019. To apply, send an email with a CV and motivation letter to all three supervisors with the subject “Carbon foams PhD”.

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