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Design of exquisite metal nanoparticle catalysts using metal-organic frameworks

Design of exquisite metal nanoparticle catalysts using metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) as spatial confinement templates. 

This project will focus on the design of exquisite metal nanoparticle catalysts using metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) as both sacrificial hard templates and spatial confinement templates for well-defined microporous metal oxides supports.

A number of very recent papers suggest the enhanced activity of highly dispersed sub-nanometer metal particle catalysts for a number of reactions, such as ammonia synthesis, CO oxidation, alkene hydrogenation, methanol reforming, water slitting, water-gas shift reaction, etc. Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), constructed from coordination bonds between metal cations and organic ligands, have emerged as the research frontier in porous materials because of their ultrahigh porosity and wide tunability.

By using microporous MOF templates, molecular-level interactions between the metal precursors and the support are enabled, securing and dispersing the active metal catalytic sites. Tuning the metal-support interactions by MOF templates to enhance the activity and stability of supported metal catalysts will be of primary interest to develop promising applications in promoting the solar and hydrogen energy utilization for mitigating the current environmental deterioration concerns. A catalytic bespoke flow rig experiments and process simulations will play a decisive role in this project to evaluate the real catalytic performance of as-synthesized catalysts. Gas sorption isotherms, kinetic data, and in-situ FTIR will be measured and monitored to probe the fundamental absorption-activation-led active sites of metal nanoparticles. The overall performance of MOF-derived metal nanoparticle catalysts will be evaluated based on the conversion, turnover frequency (TOF), materials cost, and cyclic stability. Other potential characterization techniques include PXRD, EXAFS, XPS, FESEM, HR-TEM, ASAP 2020, in-situ CO chemisorption, HAADF-STEM.


T. W. van Deelen, C. Hernández Mejía, K. P. de Jong, Nat. Catal. 2019, 2, 955-970.

Z. Hu, J. Mahin, S. Datta, T. E. Bell, L. Torrente-Murciano, Top. Catal. 2019, 62, 1169-1177.

Z. Hu, J. Mahin, L. Torrente-Murciano, Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 2019, 44, 30108-30118.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Zhigang Hu - Dr. Hu is a Lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering of Brunel University London. He obtained his PhD degree in Chemical Engineering from National University of Singapore (NUS) under the supervision of Prof. Dan Zhao in 2016, working on novel synthetic approaches for the scale-up of functional MOFs and related composite materials for adsorption-based gas separation and heterogeneous catalysis. In July 2017, he joined the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology of the University of Cambridge as a research associate with Prof. Laura Torrente-Murciano, working on developing ammonia decomposition catalysts and catalytic membrane reactors for sustainable hydrogen production. In March 2019, he worked as a research associate with Prof. Andrea Carlo Ferrari at the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Cambridge, focusing on the electrochemical processing of 2D semiconductor materials and composites for flexible electronics and gas sensing applications.