Materials and Processes

Institute for Materials and Processes (IMP) at the School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh

When solid materials are loaded above a critical level, they may change their shape permanently: they undergo plastic deformation. Consider, for example, a cylinder which we compress by pushing from top to bottom. If the load is small, the cylinder first deforms elastically (it reverts to its original shape after the load is removed). Above a certain load, some permanent deformation remains. Now if we use a macroscopic cylinder, say, several centimetres in size, then the stress (the force per unit area) needed to obtain a given relative deformation will not depend on the size of the cylinder. It will increase gradually with increasing deformation, and this 'hardening behavior' will be identical for cylinders made of the same material and deformed under the same conditions. If the stress is everywhere the same in the cylinder, also the deformation will be homogeneous - the cylinder will get shorter and thicker but will retain its cylindrical shape.

But when the deforming body becomes very small - of the order of a few micrometers in diameter - then we observe quite different behavior: (1) The stress required to deform samples of material increases as the samples become smaller. (2) Even if the stress is increased slowly and steadily, the deformation does not increase gradually but in large jumps. These jumps occur randomly, and lead to large deformations in small parts of the sample. As a consequence, in our cylinder example the samples assume irregular accordeon-like shapes. If we bend very thin wires, they may not deform into smoothly curved but into random shapes resembling mis-shapen paperclips. (3) Even if the material properties are the same (for instance, if all our cylinders have been machined out of the same block) the stresses required to deform samples may scatter hugely. In two apparently identical micrometer sized samples, the stresses required to initiate or sustain plastic deformation may easily differ by a factor of two. Obviously this poses serious problems if we want to avoid or control irreversible deformation in very small components.

Research Themes: 

  • Materials Design, Processing and Characterisation

Power plants constitute one of the largest CO2 emitting sectors. With increased emphasis on abatement of emissions to meet the 2030 deadline set by the UK Committee on Climate Change, the power-plant sector is relying on CCS retrofits using post-combustion capture to clean up flue gases. However, despite the highly transient nature of power plant operation characterised by frequent shut-downs and start-ups (up to twice a day), the retrofits are currently designed for a constant base-load operation and hence cannot maintain even liquid distribution during unsteady loading.

Research Themes: 

  • Carbon Capture and Separation Processes
  • Multiphase flows, interfaces and phase change from nano- to macro-scales
Waves generated during two-phase flow - DNS result generated by TPLS

New ideas for carbon capture are urgently needed to combat climate change. Retro-fitting post-combustion carbon capture to existing power plants has the greatest potential to reduce CO2 emissions considering these sources make the largest contribution to CO2 emissions in the UK. Unfortunately, carbon capture methods based on existing industrial process technology for separation of CO2 from natural gas streams (i.e. amine scrubbing) would be extremely expensive if applied on the scale envisaged. Moreover, many of the chemical absorbents used, typically amines, are corrosive and toxic and their use could generate significant amounts of hazardous waste. So, more efficient and 'greener' post-combustion CCS technologies are urgently needed if CCS is to be adopted on a global scale.

Research Themes: 

  • Carbon Capture and Separation Processes
Snapshot from a Monte-Carlo simulation of amine-impregnated silica

Carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and change in land use are forcing a rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 levels leading to climate change. The initial implementation of plans to reduce the levels of CO2 is based on a combination of increased use of renewable energy and the implementation of carbon capture and storage from industrial sources and power plants on a wide scale.

Such actions are not sufficient for preventing the cross with the maximum limit CO2 concentration in atmosphere (550ppm), which is foreseen for 2060.

CO2 capture directly from the atmosphere (air capture) would provide an option to accelerate the correction and possibly reverse the trend in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Research Themes: 

  • Carbon Capture and Separation Processes

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) processes are the only option for decarbonising fossil fuel power plants at large scale.  Co-gasification with biomass or waste with carbon capture can reduce the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere at large stationary emission sources. The technology can also reduce the specific operating cost, and ensure fuel supply.

Research Themes: 

  • Carbon Capture and Separation Processes

In optimizing the properties of functional materials it is essential to understand in detail how structure influences properties. Identification of the most important structural parameters is time-consuming and usually investigated by preparing many different chemical modifications of a material, determining their crystal structures, measuring their physical properties and then looking for structure-property correlations. It is also necessary to assume that the chemical modifications have no influence other than to distort the structure, which is often not the case.

Research Themes: 

  • Materials Design, Processing and Characterisation

The Gas-FACTS programme will provide important underpinning research for UK CCS development and deployment on natural gas power plants, particularly for gas turbine modifications and advanced post combustion capture technologies that are the principal candidates for deployment in a possible tens-of-£billions expansion of the CCS sector between 2020 and 2030, and then operation until 2050 or beyond, in order to meet UK CO2 (carbon dioxide) emission targets.

Research Themes: 

  • Carbon Capture and Separation Processes

Membrane processes are a promising alternative to the more classical post-combustion capture technologies due to the reduced maintenance of the process, the absence of dangerous solvents and their smaller footprint. This project aims at supporting the development of new mixed matrix membranes for post-combustion applications. Mixed matrix membranes (MMMs) are composite materials formed by embedding inorganic fillers into a polymeric matrix in order to overcome the upper bound and combine the characteristics of the two solid phases: mechanical properties, economical processing capabilities and permeability of the polymer and selectivity of the filler. Despite several studies on the concept, the interactions between the two phases and their effect on the transport properties are not well understood. Yet, this fundamental knowledge is crucial in order to design the reliable materials needed for real-world-applications.

Research Themes: 

  • Carbon Capture and Separation Processes

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