Research Fellow in Persistent Organic Pollutants

Job purpose

A postdoctoral research fellow is sought to undertake and disseminate the results of research within the context of the ReCLAIM research project. The move to a circular economy is vital for the development of industry and the protection of the environment. One material constantly in the spotlight is plastics. Plastic is a highly engineered, indispensable material used over a wide range of applications. One of the strengths of thermoplastics is the potential ability to recycle the same material many times and make use of it in a circular economy. The reality however is not so simple, and a tiny proportion of plastic is recycled effectively. There are several reasons for ineffective recycling, including: challenges in collection, sorting, reprocessing, developing end markets and legacy additives.

As part of the ReCLAIM project funded by INNOVATE-UK, the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) research group led by Professor Stuart Harrad within the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham will collaborate with a major plastics recycling company, Axion Polymers, as well as 2 end-users of recycled plastics (Crompton Mouldings and Trojan Services). Axion are a recycler of plastics derived from Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) and End of Life Vehicles (ELV). They operate one of the most advanced sorting and recycling facilities in Europe and already recycle over 200,000 tonnes of polymer a year. However, there is still a significant volume of plastic that is not recycled currently, and is destined for landfill or incineration. This material is referred to as Mixed Engineering Plastics (MEP), which contains a wide range of polymers and importantly contains legacy additives which are a concern when recycling the material. MEP represents 8,000 tonnes per year of material for Axion alone, and we estimate the UK production of this type of material is in the region of 100,000 tonnes per year. A particular concern is that MEP contains brominated flame retardants (BFRs), some of which are now classed as POPs. Although the use of these POP-BFRs in new products is regulated or banned, when recycling material that could be >20 years old the recycler cannot control the legacy additives. As a result, if there are POP-BFRs present in the recycled material, it cannot be re-used and would need to be destroyed in a high temperature incineration process, losing all value in the material and negatively impacting the environment. In order to recycle this material, two developments are thus required: development of the MEP to produce a useable product and scientific evidence that legacy additives will be "locked into" the new product and will not leach out. ReCLAIM addresses both of these required developments via an integrated programme of collaborative research between industry and academia.

The appointed research fellow would conduct laboratory experiments to study emissions to the environment of BFRs present in the new MEP products. They will also conduct laboratory experiments to examine the influence of “weathering” on BFR emissions from the products in use.

Summary of role

Conduct research work within the ReCLAIM research project to ensure project deliverables and milestones are met in a timely fashion Operate within the specialism of understanding the environmental fate and behaviour of persistent organic pollutants Analyse and interpret research findings and results and contribute to writing project reports Disseminate these research findings via contributing to peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations Contribute to writing bids for further funding.

Main duties and responsibilities

The responsibilities of the post-holder will be to:

  • Analyse and interpret data generated within the ReCLAIM project
  • Apply knowledge in a way which develops new intellectual understanding
  • Disseminate research findings for publication, research seminars etc
  • Provide guidance to PhD students within the POPs research group where appropriate
  • Contribute to optimising existing and developing new models, techniques and methods
  • Collect research data; this may be through a variety of research methods, but primarily through scientific experimentation using laboratory emission chambers and “weathering” chambers, as well using GC-MS and LC-MS to determine concentrations of BFRs in samples
  • Present research outputs, including drafting academic publications or parts thereof, for example at seminars and as posters
  • Provide guidance, as required, to support staff and any students who may be assisting with the ReCLAIM project
  • Deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines
  • Participate in quarterly ReCLAIM project team meetings, including presenting on progress with milestones and deliverables
  • Develop research objectives and proposals for own or joint research, with assistance of a mentor if required Contribute to writing bids for research funding


Person Specification

  • First degree in area of specialism and a PhD relevant to the research area (e.g. environmental chemistry) or equivalent qualifications
  • Ability to communicate complex information clearly
  • Expertise in GC-MS and LC-MS, ideally applied to the determination of concentrations of BFRs
  • Understanding of and ability to contribute to broader project management/administration processes
  • Contribute to the planning, organising, management, and administration of the ReCLAIM project
  • Co-ordinate own work with others to avoid conflict or duplication of effort


Additional information

Informal enquiries may be made to Professor Stuart Harrad,

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