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PhD Opportunities

Cementless “Geopolymer” Concrete for Sustainable Construction

School of Natural and Built Environment | PHD
Funding
Unfunded
Reference Number
NBE/MS/2020/05
Application Deadline
None specified
Start Date
1 October 2021

Overview

The development of sustainable products is necessary for the continued success of the precast concrete industry. The project aims to develop sustainable technologies and products that: (a) reuse discarded materials and reduce the need to use expensive 'natural' materials (whose extraction can destroy natural habitats and which involve intricate supply chains) (b) have superior qualities compared to current best practice/products and extended lives (c) have a positive ecological and social impact (d) can offer value-added benefits and respond to a market need.

This project will focus on the production of Green Precast Concrete Products by investigating the possibility of completely replacing cement by waste materials of high silicon dioxide content, e.g., incinerator ash, basic oxygen steel slag, disposed ash, from coal-fired thermal power plants, into ash ponds or lagoons, together with waste alkali solutions from the chemical industry. The alkali activated ash may have cementitious properties similar to cement. The reaction has been shown to be possible but selection of materials to successfully achieve compressive strengths similar to cement remains a mystery, i.e. the process is based on trial and error of different combinations of materials. This is even with off the shelf alkali solutions of known concentration combined with ground granulated blast furnace slag (ggbs) that is known to be reactive in this way. Use of ggbs and commercially available alkali solutions make this type of concrete prohibitively expensive. Yet this same concrete can be made with 100% waste materials. There is a clear and urgent market need for cement free concrete products with reduced CO2 footprint. The testing and development will focus initialy on the production of ‘Green/Ecofriendly Paving Products' that use as a binder waste materials and thus do not require the use of cement. Cementless Concrete can use lagoon ash, basic oxygen steel slag, and ash from municipal waste incinerators, combined with waste alkali solutions from the chemical industry (production of one tonne of cement corresponds approximately to one tonne of CO2 released to the atmosphere). Research will concentrate on developing an understanding of the reaction mechanism between waste alkali solutions and industrial siliceous ashes. The mechanism of the reaction between these siliceous ashes and alkalis is not well-established. The work will be jointly supervised with the Earth & Ocean Sciences department which is exceptionally well equipped with two analytical scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and a new state of the art X-ray diffractometer (XRD), as well as other relevant facilities such as infra-red spectroscopy and cathode luminescence microscopy. The aim will be to use these techniques to characterise the material properties of the various concretes as well as the starting materials. XRD will be used to identify the range and quantities of minerals and materials in the concrete. SEM will be used to understand the distribution of the minerals and materials identified by XRD and to quantify grain sizes, shapes etc. The chemical analytical facility will not only allow correct identification of minerals developed in the geopolymer cement, but will also allow investigation of chemical interactions between the geopolymer cement and the different types of aggregate. One potentially exciting area of investigation is to see if the concretes can be suitably prepared for electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) analysis, which allows quantification of crystal lattice orientations. It is well known that lattice preferred orientations (LPO) in both natural stone materials and in metals have profound effects on the engineering properties of those materials. This type of analysis, if it proves possible, could provide key evidence for understanding what microstructure develops in cementless "geopolymer" materials as a result of different sources of ashes which have different chemical and mineral compositions. This could allow blending of different materials so they produce geopolymer concretes with the desired engineering properties such as greater compressive strength, greater tensile strength, greater flexibility.

Project Summary
Supervisor
Professor Marios Soutsos
Mode of Study

Full-time: 3 years

Part-time: 6 years


Apply now Register your interest

Civil Engineering overview

The research centre will address the topical grand challenges in civil engineering field, building on existing and developing new international collaborations. Financial support to meet these challenges will be acquired through both internal University initiatives (for enhanced infrastructure and facilities) and external funding from government grants, charities and direct industrial support.

Research will address the grand challenges of energy, carbon, clean water, infrastructure; exploring extremes and defining new limits. Key research areas include:

Marine renewable energy
Groundwater and environmental systems
Geotechnics
Intelligent infrastructure and high performance structures
Energy efficient materials

Mode of study / duration

Registration is on a full-time or part-time basis, under the direction of a supervisory team appointed by the University. You will be expected to submit your thesis at the end of three years of full-time registration for PhD, or two years for MPhil (or part-time equivalent).

Civil Engineering Highlights
Global Opportunities
  • Civil Engineering sits within two trans-disciplinary clusters, bringing together researchers from spatial planning, architecture, geography, paleoecology and civil engineering to tackle some of the world's most pressing urban and environmental challenges.
    https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/NBE/Research/
Industry Links
  • Civil Engineering is led by a Head of Discipline supported by team leaders with responsibility for maintaining excellence in its research groups. One of these, the Intelligent and Sustainable Infrastructure Group (ISIG - including low carbon structural materials) has several joint projects with international Centres of Excellence. Further information about our research groups can be found on the School website.
    https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/NBE/Disciplines/civil-and-structural-engineering/
World Class Facilities
  • The School of Natural and Built Environment has a range of state-of-the-art facilities to support our outstanding students and staff conducting leading-edge research and teaching. These include a heavy structures laboratory, rheology laboratory, the Belfast Wave Flume and the Portaferry coastal wave basin.
    https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/NBE/Research/facilities-infrastructure/
Student Experience
  • Postgraduates form an intrinsic part of our research community and are actively involved in the School's cross-disciplinary Research Groups, enabling the creation of synergies in areas such as sustainability, infrastructure, culture, design and heritage. The School is engaged with major research themes such as urbanism, community, heritage, population and climate change which contributes to the development of policy and practice both locally and globally. Visit our School website and read about the exciting research being undertaken by our current PhD students:
    https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/NBE/Study/PostgraduateResearch/
Key Facts

Civil Engineering at Queens is in the Top 200 (out of 300) in the World (Academic Ranking of World Universities, 2020).

  • As a Russell Group university and ranked No. 19 in the Guardian League tables (2018), Queen’s is one of the best places in the UK to study Civil Engineering.

Course content

Research Information

Associated Research
The dynamic nature of this research has been key to the CERC's success in attracting significant funding from UK research councils, government departments and agencies. CERC generated £11.5m in external research income during the last Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) 5-year period.
The Civil Engineering Research Centre (CERC) is a leading international, interdisciplinary centre that enables scientists and engineers from all areas of civil engineering investigation to work on diverse, yet complementary research.
A special feature of the CERC is the extensive and diverse range of research topics being researched by students and staff in the Centre.

Career Prospects

Introduction
Many of our PhD graduates have moved into academic and research roles in Higher Education while others go on to play leading roles in educational practice, the public sector or within NGO’s. Queen's postgraduates reap exceptional benefits. Unique initiatives, such as Degree Plus and Researcher Plus bolster our commitment to employability. For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on askEPS@qub.ac.uk. Our advisors - in consultation with the School - will be happy to provide further information on your research area, possible career prospects and your research application.

People teaching you

Dr Giuseppina Amato
Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment
g.amato@qub.ac.uk

Dr Mohammed Sonebi
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment
m.sonebi@qub.ac.uk

Dr Raymond Flynn
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment
r.flynn@qub.ac.uk

Dr Rory Doherty
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment
r.doherty@qub.ac.uk

Dr Sree Nanukuttan
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment
s.nanukuttan@qub.ac.uk

Professor G Hamill
Professor
Natural and Built Environment
g.a.hamill@qub.ac.uk

Professor Marios Soutsos
Professor
Natural and Built Environment
m.soutsos@qub.ac.uk

Professor Wei Sha
Professor
Natural and Built Environment
w.sha@qub.ac.uk

Learning Outcomes

A research degree offers students an opportunity to foster their capacity for independent research and critical thought. It also allows students to explore an area of interest and so understand and solve theoretical and practical problems within the field.

Undertaking a research degree also enhances a student’s written and oral communication skills, and a PhD is almost always a formal requirement for an academic post.

Course structure

A PhD is awarded for original research in a topic chosen by the student. PhD studies may be undertaken on a full (3 years) or part-time (6 years) basis.

Research students are appointed a primary and secondary supervisor who will guide them through their research, supported by an independent panel reviewing students’ progress.

This independent research is complemented by programmes of training, provided both by the School of Natural and Built Environment and by Queen’s Graduate School.

Assessment

Assessment processes for the research degree differ from taught degrees. Students will be expected to present drafts of their work at regular intervals to their supervisor who will provide written and oral feedback; a formal assessment process takes place annually.

This Annual Progress Review requires students to present their work in writing and orally to a panel of academics from within the School. Successful completion of this process will allow students to register for the next academic year.

The final assessment of the doctoral degree is both oral and written. Students will submit their thesis to an internal and external examining team who will review the written thesis before inviting the student to orally defend their work at a Viva Voce.

Feedback

Supervisors will offer feedback on draft work at regular intervals throughout the period of registration on the degree.

Entrance requirements

Graduate
The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.

International Students

For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.

English Language Requirements

Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.5, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required. *Taken within the last 2 years.

International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.

For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see: www.qub.ac.uk/EnglishLanguageReqs.

If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.

Tuition Fees

Northern Ireland (NI) 1 £4,500
Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2 £4,500
England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1 £4,500
EU Other 3 £22,000
International £22,000

1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees, in line with the Common Travel Agreement arrangements. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.

All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22, and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

More information on postgraduate tuition fees.

Civil Engineering costs

There are no specific additional course costs associated with this programme.

Additional course costs

All Students

Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.

How do I fund my study?
1.PhD Opportunities

Find PhD opportunities and funded studentships by subject area.

2.Funded Doctoral Training Programmes

We offer numerous opportunities for funded doctoral study in a world-class research environment. Our centres and partnerships, aim to seek out and nurture outstanding postgraduate research students, and provide targeted training and skills development.

3.PhD loans

The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students.

4.International Scholarships

Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.

Funding and Scholarships

The Funding & Scholarship Finder helps prospective and current students find funding to help cover costs towards a whole range of study related expenses.

How to Apply

Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal go.qub.ac.uk/pgapply and follow the step-by-step instructions on how to apply.

Find a supervisor

If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions.

To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.

You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.