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PhD: Design of materials and joints for hydrogen service

Tue, 03 November, 2020

Now recruiting for PhD studentship in Cambridge with TWI and the Uni of Leicester 

NSIRC, Lloyd's Register Foundation (LRF) and TWI have opened applications for an exciting new doctoral scholarship in Cambridge, awarded by the University of Leicester.

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A centre for postgraduate research within industry, NSIRC has continued to offer 2020 scholarships throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with help from its founding partners at LRF, TWI and bp, as well as it's affiliate universities in the UK, Europe and overseas.

Scholarships for International students remain open and encourage. But should applicants have any questions or concerns about the process, please email, where a member of the NSIRC team will be on-hand to help.


Background information to this PhD studentship

Topic Title: Design of materials and joints for hydrogen service (MaHy)

Decarbonisation is needed across multiple industries, including the Energy, Marine and Transport, forcing engineers and asset owners to look for low carbon (or carbon-free) sources of fuels. One such fuel is hydrogen which is heralded as the most likely candidate to replace hydrocarbons. It is therefore vital that materials used for generation and/or containment of hydrogen are suitable for service.

Various engineering materials are currently used by industry for hydrogen service, but due to the lack of understanding in their design life, a lot of design redundancy is in place, which makes them more expensive or bulky. In order to reduce the weight of structures, high strength steels are used but the mechanical properties of high strength steels can be degraded by hydrogen. TWI has widely reported that upon reaching a critical concentration of solute hydrogen, the materials’ plasticity loss can be realised and can result in premature failure due to hydrogen embrittlement (HE). Further complications are introduced when welded joints or dissimilar materials are considered. To mitigate the risks associated with failure of containment of hydrogen, full degradation mechanisms of high strength steels need to be understood and incorporated into the design framework.

What is the research project outline?

First, the project will require a literature review, identifying the gaps in knowledge related to materials design for hydrogen service. Subsequently, experimentation and modelling would be carried out at TWI to understand the mechanism of hydrogen generation and ingress in, and associated degradation of, high strength steels. Electrochemical methods will be used to generate hydrogen on the surface of High strength steels by cathodic polarisation. In some cases, dissimilar material couples will be used to simulate galvanic interactions seen in welds. The surface of the steel will be characterised using non-contact 3D profilometry to understand the effect of surface topography on hydrogen ingress. Diffusion of hydrogen through the steels will be measured using a custom-made Devanathan–Stachurski (DS) cell.

Modified Devanathan-Stachurski hydrogen permeation cell. Photo courtesy of TWI Ltd
Modified Devanathan-Stachurski hydrogen permeation cell. Photo courtesy of TWI Ltd

The effect of temperature and media on hydrogen diffusion will also be explored. Additional tests will be carried out to understand the effect of stress on HE. 

The successful candidate will use characterisation tools, such as SEM/EDX, TEM to understand the microstructure of the selected alloys. Thermal desorption techniques will be used to quantify the amount of hydrogen. The combination of these techniques will provide more information on the mechanism of hydrogen ingress and trapping.

Modelling tools (MATLAB, COMSOL etc) will be used to model hydrogen diffusion through the high strength steel with input from the experimental data.

Tell me about the University of Leicester...

The University of Leicester is a leading UK university, committed to internationally recognised high stands of academic excellence through impactful research and inspirational teaching.

Once again Leicester has been named one of the world’s best universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) world rankings and retains its spot as one of the top 25 UK universities featured in the prestigious list, after being ranked 23rd in the list of UK universities featured in the top 200.

The University is leading the IMPACT CDT programme. The IMPACT CDT aims to train the future technical leaders in metal processing with the required combination of experimental, analytical, computational and professional skills that are needed to lead innovation. This multi-disciplinary training programme provides students from different disciplines with coherent knowledge of a range of metal processing technologies and develops their expertise in solving industrially relevant problems, to enable the UK manufacturing industry to remain the most innovative and greatest value-added globally.

Who are TWI?

TWI is a globally recognised, independent research and technology organisation that was founded in the 1940s by The Welding Institute, originally conducting testing and research into new welding and joining technologies.

Today, the centre remains recognised for it's specialist skills expertise that have been popular for decades across the oil and gas industry, but has also moved into research fields including artificial intelligence, industry 4.0, composites, coatings and structural integrity (asset reliability management) and many, many more.

TWI manages the day-to-day activities of NSIRC, providing facilities and training to immerse students within a future proof industrial environment.

To find out more about TWI and their areas of expertise, visit their website.

What does NSIRC stand for?

NSIRC stands for the National Structural Integrity Research Centre and is a state-of-the-art doctoral training engineering facility established and managed by structural integrity specialist TWI. The centre works closely with lead academic partner Brunel University, the universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Loughborough, Birmingham, Leicester and several leading industrial partners to offer doctoral scholarships and Cambridge PhD vacancies, alongside MSc and MBA courses. A pillar for the TWI Innovation Network, students deliver cutting edge postgraduate research and are trained to become the highly qualified personnel who will become the future leaders of Industry.


Entry requirements: What are the skills required to apply?

Candidates should have a relevant degree at 2.1 minimum, or an equivalent overseas degree in Materials Science, Engineering, Physics or Chemistry. Candidates with suitable work experience and strong capacity in metallurgy, numerical modelling, corrosion and electrochemistry are particularly welcome to apply. Overseas applicants should also submit IELTS results (minimum 6.5) if applicable.

How is this PhD Funded?

This project is funded by the University of Leicester, Lloyds Register Foundation and TWI. The funding covers the cost of Home/EU tuition fees and a standard tax-free RCUK stipend for three years. Non-EU students are welcome to apply, but the funding will only cover the cost of overseas tuition fees and the applicant need to self-fund their living cost for three years.


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