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Undergraduate project leads to publication success

Posted on 16 November 2020

Groundbreaking work which began as a Laidlaw summer project in the Department of Chemistry results in publication for two graduating students.

Laura Berga (MChem 2020) and Isobel Bruce (MChem 2020) achieved publication of their project work in the international journal Cellulose in the September following their graduation.

Laura began work on the project in 2017 as a first-year undergraduate student, when she was awarded a prestigious Laidlaw Scholarship to explore the use of ionic liquids as solvents for biomass processing, with Dr Seishi Shimizu.

Photo: Laura Berga (left) and Isobel Bruce (right)

Cellulose is a key component of biomass but utilising it is a challenge. Strong hydrogen bonding makes it insoluble in many solvents. Ionic liquids can readily dissolve cellulose, but there are many challenges with using them, such as their high costs, sensitivity to water and difficulty to regenerate the solvents after their use.

The project, which addressed these challenges, attracted the interest of Worn Again Technologies, a start-up company developing a novel solvent-based technology for textile recycling. In addition, Bioniqs Ltd, another start-up company, and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology joined the collaboration. Worn Again Technologies sponsored both Laura (2018 and 2019) and a second York Chemistry undergraduate, Isobel Bruce (2019), to continue the work in their research laboratory at Nottingham during the summer, where Dr Joshua Reid supervised the project towards completion.

The subsequently-published paper, "Cellulose dissolution and regeneration using a non-aqueous, non-stoichiometric protic ionic liquid system" shows how the challenges of cellulose dissolution were addressed by demonstrating a novel approach to using protic ionic liquids, which are more cost effective than traditional ionic liquids and can simplify the solvent regeneration process.

Project Supervisor at the University of York, Dr Seishi Shimizu said: "Laura's outstanding drive, determination and resilience made all this possible. Isobel's important contribution came when it was badly needed. Josh, my former PhD student, led the team with his expertise. We are grateful to the Laidlaw Scholarship for this opportunity."