Luke Higgins

Background

I graduated from the University of Kent in 2016 with an integrated MPhys(Hons) in Physics with a year abroad at the University of California. My undergraduate work was focused on condensed matter physics, synthesising new metal-organic frameworks with multiferroic properties. During my time at University I worked closely with two renewable energy companies, specialising in bespoke low-carbon installations and systems design.

Areas of Expertise

– X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
– Thermal & Hydrothermal Carbons
– X-ray Raman Spectroscopy
– Transmission Electron Microscopy

Research

Functionalised ‘Engineered’ Carbons – A Mechanistic Study
Sustainable carbon materials have become increasingly important in the field of energy research and can be applied as fuels, battery materials or environmental sorbents. These carbon materials are produced by either the thermal or hydrothermal carbonisation method. In the former, the feedstock is heated in the absence of oxygen causing the degradation of the material into a condensed amorphous carbon material called pyrochar. In the latter, hydrothermal method, it is heated under auto-generated pressures in intimate contact with a solvent, typically water, at subcritical temperatures and pressures. Here, these materials are produced from model compounds such as glucose, or from waste materials such as wood waste. Sustainable carbons are becoming widely applied, therefore it is important that the chemistry of both the material and its formation are understood. My research focusses on the application of state-of-the-art synchrotron X-ray techniques to both pyrochars and hydrochars, in order to study their fundamental chemistry for application in contaminant immobilisation and resource recovery. These techniques, which include X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS) and X-ray Raman spectroscopy (XRS), have seldom been applied to these materials. XAS is used to improve the understanding of how contaminants are chemically bound to the material itself, and how the application of organic and inorganic modifiers effects the uptake of contaminants. Whilst X-ray Raman Spectroscopy, a novel inelastic scattering technique, is used to study fundamental bulk carbon chemistry. Using these advanced spectroscopies to underpin standard wet chemical techniques and electron microscopy, I hope to build engineered ‘designer’ carbons to immobilise and recover specific contaminants and resource minerals from the environment.

Why I chose the CDT in Bioenergy

Having studied for an integrated masters, I didn’t feel like I had enough information to choose a specific topic in the energy sector, but was sure that I wanted to continue in the university environment. The CDT allows you to sharpen your knowledge in this area before making a final decision on the PhD topic. The CDT also has the added benefits of funding, excellent equipment and a cohort system that allows for support, friendship and teamwork.