Recycling of thermoset resins via the development of a solvent trigger de-curing system.

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Location/Division: Cambridge

PhD Studentship (Sponsored by Lloyds Register Foundation) - Recycling of thermoset resins via the development of a solvent trigger de-curing system.


Most composites use thermosetting resins (>50%), there is currently no commercial recycling process for thermoset composites. This is because the polymers in thermoset composites are extensively cross-linked and cannot be remoulded like in thermoplastics which can be re-melted.

Moreover composite recycling (both thermoset and thermoplastic) is globally not closed-loop, with respect to resource efficiency, as the recycled material cannot currently be re-used in the same or similar applications as the pure material. There is growing research interest in the use of solvolysis/chemical dissolution for fibre reinforced polymer composite recycling due to its potential to recover both resin and fibre components. Chemical dissolution in selective solvents dissolves soluble thermoplastic and leaves insoluble, undamaged fibre for recovery and re-use. Dissolution and reconstitution of thermosets is impossible without covalent change at the molecular level. A combined reaction chemistry-solvent system will be required to decouple the covalent bonds within the thermoset molecules (“decuring”), and thence to selectively dissolve and separate the resulting molecular components (while observing energy and environmental constraints and catering for the presence of co-formulated additives in the original polymer). Such a process should (albeit indirectly) permit the regeneration of the precursor materials for thermoset composites, thereby addressing some of the major challenges identified by industrial Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) regarding many advanced thermoset-based materials.

Project Outline

The suggested approach involves a design-for-disassembly concept, whereby novel thermoset resins are formulated based on the incorporation of latent decoupling agents into the cured matrix, in the form of chemically functionalized nanoparticles. The chemical functionalization of the nanoparticles will remain inert under all conditions of use, other than when activated by a very specific and unique combination of solvent, temperature and other processing conditions. Activation will lead to decuring of the resin, facilitating recovery of reusable resin components and the fibre. This approach is wholly experimental and high-risk; however, it holds out the possibility of fully recyclable thermoset composites for future automotive, energy and possibly even aerospace applications. Critical to its success will be

1.)           Retention of the required composite properties of strength, flexibility etc despite nanoparticle incorporation

2.)           Absolute insurance against accidental triggering of the decuring chemistry and

3.)           Cost-effective recovery and re-use of both resin and fibre components.

About Industrial Sponsor

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation funds the advancement of engineer-related education and research and supports work that enhances safety of life at sea, on land and in the air, because life matters. Lloyd’s Register Foundation is partly funded by the profits of their trading arm Lloyd’s Register Group Limited, a global engineering, technical and business services organisation.


NSIRC is a state-of-the-art postgraduate engineering facility established and managed by structural integrity specialist TWI, working closely with, top UK and International Universities and a number of leading industrial partners. NSIRC aims to deliver cutting edge research and highly qualified personnel to its key industrial partners.

About the University

London South Bank University (LSBU) is a public university in London. It has 17,605 students and 1,700 staff, and is based in the London Borough of Southwark, near the South Bank of the River Thames, from which it takes its name. The university has seven Schools, covering the areas of Applied Sciences, Arts and Creative Industries, The Built Environment and Architecture, Business, Engineering, Health and Social Care, and Law and Social Sciences. In the 2015 survey of Destination of Leavers in Higher Education (DLHE) 75% of LSBU graduates who responded to the survey were in a professional and/or managerial role just six months after graduating. In November 2016, LSBU was named the Entrepreneurial University of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards.

Candidate Requirements


Candidates should have a relevant degree at 2.1 minimum, or an equivalent overseas degree in chemistry or polymer chemistry. Candidates with suitable work experience in polymer, numerical modelling and lab skills are particularly welcome to apply. Overseas applicants should also submit IELTS results (minimum 6.5) if applicable.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by Lloyds Register Foundation, TWI and academic partners. The studentship will provide successful Home/EU students with a stipend of £16k/year and will cover the cost of tuition fees. Overseas applicants are welcome to apply, with total funding capped at £24k/year.