Funded (UK/EU and international students)

Project code



School of Mechanical and Design Engineering

Start dates

October 2023

Application deadline

2 May 2023

Applications are invited for a fully-funded 3.5 year PhD to commence in October 2023.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Technology, and will be supervised by Professor Hom Nath Dhakal, Dr Zhongyi Zhang and Dr Abu Saifullah

The successful candidate will be part of a new and innovative cluster of PhD students, dedicated to finding solutions to the global plastic crisis. Working as part of the cohort  you will explore the complex problem of marine pollution from plastic packaging and be expected to contribute to updates that demonstrate its impact. This interdisciplinary research programme is being supported by UK based material technologies company Aquapak, aiming to harness individual and collective discoveries to build new knowledge and deliver actionable strategies that can be taken to solve a growing problem.

Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for 3.5 years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£17,668 for 2022/23). 

The work on this project could involve:

  • Developing packaging material using PLA/PCL with natural plant fibres including date-palm fibre (DPF) for improved mechanical and barrier performances.
  • Characterising the mechanical and durability properties improvement of PLA/PCL biodegradable materials for bio-food packaging through the addition of nanoparticles. 
  • Understanding of structure-property relationships using and various advanced characterisation techniques, including scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy.


Plastics produced from synthetic and non-biodegradable materials without clear end-of-life options have raised serious concern over the environmental pollution they cause. Development of sustainable packaging materials that can be recycled and biodegraded is vital in order to reduce long-term plastic waste and pollution and moving towards a circular economy. Sustainable polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA), polycaprolactone (PCL) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) offer potential advantages for renewable, biodegradable, low energy production and processing. PLA, for example, provides good mechanical and barrier properties and is recyclable, compostable, odorless and relatively low cost. However, these polymers are not without some drawbacks.

This PhD studentship will focus on the development, characterisation and testing of sustainable and biodegradable packaging materials, defining properties and functionality suitable for different packaging applications. You will undertake investigation covering key properties such as physical and mechanical properties, permeability, biodegradability as well as a full environmental impact evaluation through eco-audit, life cycle assessment (LCA) which will include providing information on environmental damage related to global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and damage to marine life among others.

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

An enthusiastic and self-motivated person with good team-working, observational and communication skills are essential.  Experience in materials testing and characterisation, life cycle assessment (LCA) will be an advantage.




How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Professor Hom Nath Dhakal ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code SMDE8130223 when applying.