• Careerwise Placement
  • Edinburgh
  • 14 January 2020

Website University of Edinburgh

Job title: Clean Energy Production from Mammals’ Urine
Responsible To: Dr Francisco R. Garcia Garcia
Department: School of Chemical Engineering / The University of Edinburgh
Duration: 12 weeks
Salary: £18,009 pro rata
Placement Ref: EQU/2020/016

Job Specification

1. Basic purpose of the placement and its primary objectives:

The main purpose of this research project is to study the feasibility of using natural hydrogen carriers such the urea present in mammals’ urine to allow for clean hydrogen production. Today, 96% of the global hydrogen production comes from the steam reforming of fossil fuels, which not only produces an important amount of carbon dioxide but also does not resolve the actual energy supply problem. On the other hand, the fact that hydrogen is explosive and highly flammable in air at typical operating conditions, points to the necessity of the use of a suitable hydrogen carrier to ensure a safe storage, transport and distribution. In the near future, compressed gaseous hydrogen and liquid hydrogen will be avoided, since these are expensive and consume approximately 12% and 35% of the hydrogen energy content for operation, respectively. High hydrogen content molecules such as methanol, ethanol and ammonia have been proposed as a very promising “storage-molecules” of hydrogen, instead of using pure hydrogen. However, they have the drawback that they cannot be found in the nature and must be industrially produced.

The hypothesis of this project is that the energy consumed by a medium size cow farm, could be produced from its cows’ urine. This project will provide critical information to establish the feasibility of using natural hydrogen carriers such the urea contained in mammals’ urine to provide clean hydrogen production. As of June 2018, there were 9.9 million cattle in the UK (APS Group, 2019) showing the potential for innovation of this project in the UK. Likewise, according to the latest market study (ofgem, 2019) British households and businesses spend around £50 billion on energy each year. Finally, this research project addresses two of the Sustainable Development Goals Accord (SDGA): (i) affordable and clean energy climate industry, (ii) climate action.

2. Main duties:
The proposed project is to be carried out over the course of twelve weeks, with four main tasks: (i) synthesis of catalytic materials, (ii) characterization of catalytic materials, (iii) study the performance of catalytic materials in the ammonia decomposition reaction, (iv) data sharing and dissemination. The timeline for this project is shown in Table 1.

The work will be organized in twelve weeks with four main tasks.

The first stage of the project (weeks: 1 to 3) will focus on synthesis of a series of Ru based catalysts supported on active carbon. The catalysts will be synthesised by the wet impregnation method. The main propose of this part of the project is to evaluate the effect of parameters, such as, the Ru content, the Ru particle size and the presence of alkaline metal promoters such as Cs on the urea decomposition reaction.

In the second stage of the project (weeks: 3 to 7) Ru based catalysts will be characterized by several techniques including; N2 adsorption isotherms (SBET), temperature programmed desorption (TPD), temperature programmed oxidation (TPO), temperature programmed reduction (TPR), X-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and energy dispersive spectrometer (EDS).

Preliminary data of the performance of Ru based catalytic materials during the urea decomposition reaction using a pack bed reactor will be obtain in the third stage of the project (weeks: 5 to 10). The catalytic activity test will be carried out at atmospheric pressure and operating temperatures between 300C and 500C. Our hypothesis is that activity/selectivity can be achieved by controlling (i) Ru content, (ii) Ru particle size, (iii) Cs/Ru molar ratio.

Moreover in the last stage of the project (weeks: 10 to 12), the student will have the opportunity to present the data produced in this research project at the SURCAT-2020 workshop. This workshop will give her the opportunity to meet the Scottish catalytic community.

3. Knowledge and skills required:
The candidate for this paid summer work placement must have an average of 2:1 or higher and passed Kinetics and catalysis 3 course or equivalent with 60 or higher. Likewise, it is desirable that the student is familiar with materials characterization techniques such as nitrogen adsorption isotherms at -196 °C (BET and BJH methods), X-ray diffraction (XRD), temperature programme reduction (TPR-H2), and in situ UV-Vis spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Also the student should understand the basics concepts of packed bed reactor deign and being able to define the operation window for any given reaction by defining its kinetic and thermodynamic boundaries.

4. Person skills:

– 2:1 or higher in Chemical Engineering and passed Kinetics and catalysis 3 course or equivalent with 60 or higher
– Ability to work in an organised and methodical way
– Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
– OriginLab
– Awareness of Health & Safety issues
– Awareness of CoSHH


– Effective communicator written and oral

5. Working conditions:
This is a full time position, Monday to Friday 9:00am to 17:00pm. The student will enjoy a stimulating working environment within the recently opened £1.5M Catalysis Design Laboratory at the School of Engineering and will gain expertise in advance experimental heterogeneous catalysis.

How to Apply
Students should complete the online application form via the Equate Scotland website and attach a cover letter and a CV as separate documents, in PDF version and hit submit.

Please also make sure you note the placement reference number that you are applying for (highlighted in bold above) as you will need this to complete the application form.

Closing Date: 14th January 2020
Person Specification

Job title: Clean Energy Production from Mammals’ Urine

Placement Ref: EQU/2020/016