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PhD Opportunities

Design and Synthesis of Sustainable Electrolytes for Redox Flow Batteries Based on Abundant Metals

School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering | PHD

Applications are now CLOSED
Reference Number
Application Deadline
24 February 2023
Start Date
2 October 2023


Redox flow batteries (RFB) are a promising technology for stationary energy storage systems which will become a real necessity as we transition to a low-carbon energy landscape that relies more heavily on intermittent renewable energy. In such RFBs, the electrical energy is stored in liquids through redox reactions of dissolved redox couples at electrodes. The choice of electrolytes is a key factor in the costs, durability and sustainability of these batteries, and currently prohibits the wider implementation of this promising technology. Suitable, sustainable electrolytes must have a good balance between stability and solubility of the ions in the oxidation states involved, enable rapid and reversible electrode reactions and must consist of compounds with high availability and affordability of raw materials. Chelation of metal complexes has demonstrated the ability to modulate redox potential and increase redox kinetics and solubility to generate high performance, low cost RFBs.

This PhD project will focus on the design and synthesis of chelating ligands, their complexation with earth abundant metals as redox couples as electrolytes for RFBs. Based on a proof-of-concept, and with the help of computational modelling (Density Functional Theory, DFT), a range of iron, cerium, manganese and vanadium redox couples with suitable potential difference and reversibility in charge/discharge experiments will be synthesised. According to the criteria for the electrolyte, these need to form stable solutions of abundant metals (Fe, Mn, Ce), using non-flammable, non-toxic solvents and complexing agents which result in high solubility and redox potentials in a suitable range.
By using new redox-couples containing redox-stable metal complexes consisting of earth-abundant metals such as iron, manganese or cerium, electrolytes with performances similar to vanadium but at lower costs can be synthesised. The intention is to explore new electrolyte chemistries and redox couples with non-vanadium chemistries. Thereby, a range of organic ligands will be designed assisted by computational methods (DFT calculations), and the redox potentials of the metal complexes will be determined, resulting in a ‘map’ of complex structures vs. redox potentials. In particular, iron, cerium and manganese and vanadium have redox potentials within the right margin which can form long-term stable complexes; however, the structure / property relationship regarding their electrochemical potential is currently not fully understood. Introducing ligands can alter the redox potentials, and therefore the cell voltage of the RFB. The new electrolyte solutions will be characterised using electrochemical characterisation methods, ranging from CVs and EIS to the characterisation of the ion mobility in the electrolyte.

The PhD student will work in close collaboration with the industrial partner (Shell) and will have the possibility to spend up to 6 months at the Shell Technology Centre Amsterdam (STCA), Netherlands (funded). The student will work there closely with a team of international redox flow battery experts and will have access to Shell’s high-end, state-of-the-art energy and lab facilities. The PhD student will present and discuss progress in monthly meetings with the academic supervisory team and a team of energy storage experts from Shell. These meetings will provide additional technical feedback and an industrial perspective to the research.
The ideal candidate should enjoy working in a multi-disciplinary field of energy storage that ranges from inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry to analytical techniques. Team-working qualities, clear communication skills and the ability to learn and develop new techniques are key for a successful candidate. This project will be co-supervised by Dr Oana Istrate (MAE) and Dr Paul Kavanagh (CCE).

Funding Information

The studentship is jointly funded by industry and DfE and is open to UK and ROI nationals (with residency conditions), or EU nationals that have obtained settled status in the UK. Full eligibility and stipend information can be viewed via:

Project Summary

Professor Peter Nockemann

More Information

Research Profile

Mode of Study

Full-time: 3 years

Funding Body
DfE CAST Award
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Chemistry overview

The School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering aims to promote sustainable processes and materials to meet the energy and healthcare demands of the future. The School is expanding rapidly and this is creating many new and exciting research opportunities with over £15m being invested to develop and expand the core research areas of catalysis, biological and medicinal chemistry, and 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).

Key Facts

QUB is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s 24 leading research-intensive universities.

  • QUB is joint 1st in the UK for Research Intensity for Chemistry (Complete University Guide 2021)
  • Over 99% of Queen’s research environment was assessed as world-leading or internationally excellent in REF2021
    88% of research submitted by Queen’s has been assessed as world-leading or internationally excellent in REF2021
  • QUB is ranked in the top 25 universities in the world for international joint publications (U-Multirank 2020)
  • QUB is ranked 43 in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021
  • 83% of Research Impact case studies by the School has been assessed as world-leading or internationally excellent REF2021, placing it among the top UK universities for Research Impact

Course content

Research Information

Associated Research
Much of our research falls under the broad headings of Healthcare and Sustainability, examples of recent funded projects include development of novel antibiotics and reduction of single use plastics. The School also leads the EU-funded Bryden Centre for renewable energy research, the industry-led Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE) as well as our world-leading QUILL ionic liquids research centre. Students trained in our School are equipped with the skills that allow them to go out and make a real difference in the world.

Our areas of interest include adventurous research at the cutting edge of catalysis (where chemistry meets other disciplines, especially engineering, innovative Molecular Materials and Functional Materials), ionic liquid technology (‘super solvents' which do not form vapours and can be used as non-polluting alternatives to conventional solvents) and Synthesis and Biological Organic Chemistry (working to deliver compounds addressing the regulation of cellular functions).
QUILL (Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories): the largest multidisciplinary research group in the world centred on ionic liquid technology, whose work on ‘super solvents' (which do not form vapours and can be used as non-polluting alternatives to conventional solvents) was voted ‘Most Important British Innovation of the 21st Century' in 2013.
All of our research groups have significant links with researchers and other institutions globally, and there are opportunities for collaboration and study visits, etc.
We have extensive links with industry, meaning that employment prospects for our graduates are excellent.
Much of our research is interdisciplinary, and our students can broaden their experience and knowledge by working with researchers from other disciplines (eg biologists, physicists).

Career Prospects

For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on 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

Professor John Holbrey
Director of Postgraduates
Chemistry&Chemical Engineering

Course structure

Entrance requirements

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 6.0, 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:

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 £4,596
Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2 £4,596
England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1 £4,596
EU Other 3 £23,850
International £23,850

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. 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.

Chemistry costs

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.

Bench fees

Some research programmes incur an additional annual charge on top of the tuition fees, often referred to as a bench fee. Bench fees are charged when a programme (or a specific project) incurs extra costs such as those involved with specialist laboratory or field work. If you are required to pay bench fees they will be detailed on your offer letter. If you have any questions about Bench Fees these should be raised with your School at the application stage. Please note that, if you are being funded you will need to ensure your sponsor is aware of and has agreed to fund these additional costs before accepting your place.

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 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.

Download Postgraduate Prospectus