Geoenergy

Geoenergy

Geoenergy is a very general term for research into any area of the Earth which has the potential to yield some useable form of energy. A large part of the research group's interests lie in shales and high organic content mudrocks. This is due to the microscale influences of clays on organic matter, a factor which determines the quality of a reservoir and, perhaps in the immediate future, the feasibility of a shale gas field. Shale gas is also a key area of research for the layered mineral geochemistry group and the computer simulations conducted by the group are of cutting edge quality. The obvious economic benefits and industrial interest in geoenergy have led to the area being a very dynamic research environment with high levels of funding from the oil and gas sector as well as non-profit organisations.

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Prebiotics

Prebiotic Chemistry

The early Earth was a very hostile place for modern biochemistry with intense volcanic activity, a reducing atmosphere and intense UV radiation all resulting in degradation, rather than synthesis, of biomolecules. In the Archean oceans, small abiotic organic molecules would have spewed out of hydrothermal vent systems, similar to the black smokers of today's oceans. However, without means of concentrating the organic molecules, the resulting solution would have been far too dilute to allow molecules to collide and reactions to occur. We have used, and continue to use electronic structure and atomistic computer simulations to illustrate how layered double hydroxide minerals are able to both concentrate and react organic molecules and protect larger molecules. We have also hypothesized that these reactions to form the first "bio-molecules" in certain systems also contained an inherent information transfer system from the mineral host. Current work examines amino acid uptake, and any chiral selectivity, in layered double hydroxide mineral systems.

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Catalysis

Catalysis

Glyceride reactions catalysed with a homogenous catalyst have been shown to rely on excessive alcohol and create highly basic aqueous waste. Heteregenous catalysts have been shown to result in a cleaner, more efficient process and the research undertaken by the group is central to delivering a Carbon-neutral biofuel derived from macroalgae. This research is undertaken in the laboratory through macroalgal cultures and lipid conversions, and through computational simulation of the catalyst interface.

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Interfaces

Mineral Interfaces

Understanding mineral interfaces is one of the key aims of the research group, of particular interest are interfaces between clays and other minerals. Clays interact with crystalline and non-crystalline minerals in a whole range of ways and those interactions can be altered or goverened by factors within the system such as pH, pressure and temperature. Since the interactions of polymorphs of clays, layered double hydroxides (LDHs) and polymers have very important in implications in fields as diverse as oil drilling, cement formation and composite material formation both experimental and computational methods are used to investigate the properties of these interactions.

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Composites

Composite Materials

As the 20th Century progressed mankind's need for lightweight materials rapidly evolved. A driving force has been the birth and evolution of the aeroplane. From the early canvas and dope fuselages and wings, airframes have driven the evolution of lightweight, high performance composite materials. The latest generation of such materials, based on clay fillers entrained in polymers, present significant challenges to the materials scientist as many of the enhanced properties occur at the molecular and atomic level, in the nanometer domain. Computer modeling gives significant insight into the structure and performance of these composites not available from other methods. We have made use of emerging technologies in computational grids, connecting supercomputers across the globe, to run molecular dynamics simulation at an unprecedented scale, in the order of millions of atoms, of clay platelets. These simulations have shown the emergence of thermal undulations not seen in smaller models, enabling the calculation of materials properties of both the whole system, and the clay platelets which are only a few nanometers thick.

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