Breaking forever: Capturing and converting toxic PFAS molecules using coral structured biochars from blade waste

Research projects

  • Research area

    Achieve a sustainable wind farm life cycle

  • Institution

    University of Hull

  • Research project

    Breaking forever: Capturing and converting toxic PFAS molecules using coral structured biochars from blade waste

  • Lead supervisor

    Dr Martin Taylor (Lecturer in Chemical Engineering, University of Hull)

  • PhD Student

    Applications under assessment

  • Supervisory Team

    Dr Samantha Richardson (Lecturer in Biochemistry - Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Hull)
    Dr Grazia Francesconi (Senior Lecturer in Chemistry - Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Hull)
    Dr Amthal Al-Gailani (Lecturer in Chemical Engineering - Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Hull)

Project Description:

Recruitment is currently closed and applications are under review.  

This Research Project is part of the EPSRC CDT in Offshore Wind Energy Sustainability and Resilience’s Keeping it green: Preserving materials and repurposing waste within the Offshore Wind sector Cluster.

Humans tend to generate and abandon a lot of waste while they innovate. Some of this waste can be easily recycled, others not so much. Although technologies are slowly emerging, biorenewable waste generated by decommissioning wind turbine blades (balsa wood) has a finite life before it naturally decomposes. Although wind turbine blade recycling has started to take off, as has the production of biodegradable blade materials, there is still a surplus of current and ancestral waste. We can circumvent the natural carbon cycle and add value to our waste, provide a new lease of life whilst limit the release of carbon. This project investigates the production of next generation waste-derived materials for environmental protection activities, by removing forever chemicals and reducing fluorine contamination.

Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used since the 1940s for hydrophobic protection, corrosion and grease-resistant coatings (non-stick coatings on cookware). This family of chemicals are organofluorine derived, containing a large number of fluorine atoms. This functionality is the core reason for their success over the years, however it is also the reason for their all-round stability and inability to biodegrade. This factor has established PFAS molecules as “forever chemicals” due to their lingering nature. While already banned in areas of Europe and the United Kingdom, the USA will phase out PFAS usage within the next few years. The sudden ban on PFAS production is tied to the toxic nature of the dissolved chemicals in water systems, where exposure has been found to lead to liver and immune system damage, as well as a direct link to many cancers for humans. For marine life, PFAS molecules have been found to hinder the growth and photosynthesis of phytoplankton and the reproduction of zooplankton where it will then bioaccumulate in fish and other aquatic wildlife.

A low carbon solution to yet another human-made problem is through the functionalisation and deployment of photoactive biochars. Here, through pre- and post-processing of balsa wood (taken from decommissioned wind turbines), biochars can be produced with a defined pore architecture and expansive surface area, this makes them ideal materials as adsorbents and catalyst supports.  This project will focus on the re-purposing of balsa wood waste for capturing and catalytically converting organic pollutants, reducing environmental contamination for companies and generating new products and supply chains where possible.

Training & Skills

You will be trained in materials characterisation technologies such as infrared spectroscopy, thermogravimetric analysis, elemental analysis, inductive coupled plasma mass spectrometry, powder x-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, nitrogen physisorption, Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometry, slow pyrolysis, the engineering of pore networks and colloidal nanoparticle synthesis routes (wet chemistry). This wealth of technical knowledge will allow the student to carry on an academic career, operate as a technologist, senior laboratory operator or Environmental Protection Officer.

You will work in the Bioenergy, Solid Fuels and Catalysis laboratory alongside another CDT project on “Biorenewable honey comb adsorbates for high capacity carbon capture”. Techniques, training and equipment usage will overlap, creating a supportive and collaborative research environment for both students.

You will benefit from a taught programme, giving you a broad understanding of the breadth and depth of current and emerging offshore wind sector needs. This begins with an intensive six-month programme at the University of Hull for the new student intake, drawing on the expertise and facilities of all four academic partners. It is supplemented by Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which is embedded throughout your 4-year research scholarship.

Further Queries

If you would like more information about this project, please let us know by emailing

Entry Requirements

If you have received or expect to achieve before starting your PhD programme a First-class Honours degree, or a 2:1 Honours degree and a Masters, or a Distinction at Masters level a degree (or the international equivalents) in engineering, chemistry, environmental science or physics, we would like to hear from you.

If your first language is not English, or you require a Student Visa to study, you will be required to provide evidence of your English language proficiency level that meets the requirements of the Aura CDT’s academic partners. This course requires academic IELTS 7.0 overall, with no less than 6.0 in each skill. Please contact for further guidance or questions.


The CDT is funded by the EPSRC, allowing us to provide scholarships that cover fees plus a stipend set at the UKRI nationally agreed rates, £19,237 per annum at 2024/25 rates (subject to progress).


Our funded Doctoral Scholarships are available to UK Students. In addition, we have a number of Scholarships that are open to International Students. Research council funding for postgraduate research has residence requirements. To be considered a Home student, and therefore eligible for a full award, a student must have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the scholarship (with some further constraint regarding residence for education). For full eligibility information, please refer to the EPSRC website.


Interviews will be held during June and will be conducted by a panel of academics from the University of Hull.

For an informal discussion please contact

For an informal discussion, call +44 (0) 1482 463331
or contact