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Developing novel iron-rich cement

Location: University of Sheffield

Applications accepted all year round

The cement and steel sectors are foundational to the UK and are essential to construct our infrastructure. Cement is the most manufactured commodity worldwide and due to the large demand and urbanisation, the industry is extremely resource and carbon intensive. The cement industry’s burden on planetary health is so embedded in its design that radical incorporations and changes are necessary to achieve sustainability. The major routes to achieving this include the development of low-impact binders and improved resource efficiency.

The major oxide constituents of traditional cements are CaO, SiO2, Al2O3, and Fe2O3, but the latter two are at a much lesser extent, while the bulk of the industry’s burden is from the calcareous source – both in terms of embodied carbon emissions and resource excavation. Calcium is mostly available naturally as limestone (mainly CaCO3) which is at the heart of the sustainability issues of cement, firstly because almost half of the mass is eventually released as CO2, but also because only half of the mass remains after excavation and processing, in the final product.

On the other hand, iron (Fe) is the fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust, surpassed only by O, Si and Al; therefore, it is predictable that natural resources and industrial by-products contain significant amounts of iron and without chemically bound CO2. So, producing cement with higher iron contents will reduce the environmental burden of cement manufacture.

The UK steel industry produces up to 1M tonnes of steel slag annually, and into the foreseeable future. These waste materials need to be managed properly to improve resource efficiency, and to avoid landfill and subsequent ecotoxicity. Approx. 200 Mt of legacy iron and steel slag are also present across the country and contain significant amounts of Fe. These by-product materials can be used to make cements.

In this project, we aim to develop novel faster-reacting cement clinkers and/or supplementary cementitious materials that are rich in iron. You will thermally (pyro-processing) and/or mechanically (comminution) activate iron-rich materials to produce a binder that will interact with other mineral and chemical additives to exhibit cementitious properties.

We are looking to recruit a graduate with a first or high 2.1 class honours degrees with a background in materials science, chemical engineering, chemistry, earth sciences, or a related discipline. Knowledge and experience in minerals, cements, and concrete are particularly beneficial. Familiarity in relevant materials testing and characterisation techniques such as SEM, XRD, calorimetry, and thermal analyses is desirable but not essential.

The PhD student will join a dynamic team of researchers based in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at TUoS to develop research and innovation in the field of cement and concrete. MSE at TUoS is a globally leading research centre in the innovation and development of materials to resolve global challenges. We are an equal opportunity organisation and value diversity at our university; we know that diversity in all its forms delivers greater impact. The student will work in the world-leading Cements@Sheffield group and is expected to have a 3-month research visit at VITO (Flemish Institute of Technology). This studentship is part of the FeRICH project.

To apply: View Website

Funding Note

This studentship will pay Home tuition fees and a stipend for living expenses for 3.5 years at the RCUK rate.
EU and other nationals may be eligible for Home-student fees.
Students with overseas fees status can apply, but if accepted, they will need to separately fund the difference in fees between the International and Home rate.
Start Date is September 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.


Published: November 30th, 2021
Posted in PhD opportunities


In partnership with

Logo of the University of Leeds - TFI Network+ partner.
Logo of the University of Manchester - TFI Network+ partner.
Logo of the Swansea University - TFI Network+ partner.
Logo of the University of Sheffield - TFI Network+ partner.