Clean Interior Air for Vehicle Cabins: Understanding and Controlling Fine Particulate Matter, Volatile Organic Compounds and Pathogens in the Context of the Future Shared Vehicle

Qualification: PhD

Department: School of Physics and Astronomy

Application deadline: 25th March 2020. Interviews scheduled for w/c 22 April 2020

Start date: 28 September 2020

Overview

Supervisors:

Dr Josh Vande Hey

Dr Julie Morrissey

Project Description:

Project Highlights

Conducting exciting experimental research at the physical sciences / life sciences interface
Collaborating with a world leading automotive manufacturer in a well-supported PhD with a competitive stipend
Developing solutions for improving air quality in indoor environments

Overview

We spend on average up to 90% of our time indoors, and while there are many known sources of indoor air pollution [1], our understanding of precisely what we are exposed to in the indoor environment is poor.  Exposures in the vehicle cabin environment are also poorly understood; some people spend a large fraction of their day in this environment or experience short duration but high concentration exposures.  Existing evidence shows levels in the cabin can be higher than the roadside [2], but there are options for cleaning cabin air [3].  In addition to being influenced by air pollution from outside the vehicle, cabin air quality is also influenced by emissions from materials in the car, and also by the contributions of airborne pathogens from passengers.  Three cabin air constituents are of particular interest when considering the future of vehicles in the Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES) vehicle approach: 

1) fine particulate matter (particles 2.5 microns and smaller, PM2.5), due to its many know health impacts and many vehicle and roadway sources; 
2) volatile organic compounds (VOCs), due to their abundance in materials found in automotive cabins and increasingly strict regulations of cabin concentrations;
3) pathogens such as bacteria that might be a concern for drivers and passengers of future shared vehicles.

This interdisciplinary PhD will combine a range of experimental techniques to evaluate baseline exposures to PM2.5 (including ultrafine fraction), VOCs and airborne bacteria, and test mitigation approaches that could be applied to reduce human exposures.  Figure 1 shows a schematic of the research concept.  Working in close collaboration with premier vehicle manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, the candidate will assess feasibility and benefit of different mitigation approaches to improve cabin air quality for future vehicles.

Methodology

This PhD will consist of three work streams focusing on VOCs, fine particles and pathogens.

Project Highlights

Conducting exciting experimental research at the physical sciences / life sciences interface
Collaborating with a world leading automotive manufacturer in a well-supported PhD with a competitive stipend
Developing solutions for improving air quality in indoor environments

Overview
We spend on average up to 90% of our time indoors, and while there are many known sources of indoor air pollution [1], our understanding of precisely what we are exposed to in the indoor environment is poor.  Exposures in the vehicle cabin environment are also poorly understood; some people spend a large fraction of their day in this environment or experience short duration but high concentration exposures.  Existing evidence shows levels in the cabin can be higher than the roadside [2], but there are options for cleaning cabin air [3].  In addition to being influenced by air pollution from outside the vehicle, cabin air quality is also influenced by emissions from materials in the car, and also by the contributions of airborne pathogens from passengers.  Three cabin air constituents are of particular interest when considering the future of vehicles in the Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES) vehicle approach: 

1) fine particulate matter (particles 2.5 microns and smaller, PM2.5), due to its many know health impacts and many vehicle and roadway sources; 
2) volatile organic compounds (VOCs), due to their abundance in materials found in automotive cabins and increasingly strict regulations of cabin concentrations;
3) pathogens such as bacteria that might be a concern for drivers and passengers of future shared vehicles.

This interdisciplinary PhD will combine a range of experimental techniques to evaluate baseline exposures to PM2.5 (including ultrafine fraction), VOCs and airborne bacteria, and test mitigation approaches that could be applied to reduce human exposures.  Figure 1 shows a schematic of the research concept.  Working in close collaboration with premier vehicle manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, the candidate will assess feasibility and benefit of different mitigation approaches to improve cabin air quality for future vehicles.

Methodology

This PhD will consist of three work streams focusing on VOCs, fine particles and pathogens.  

1. VOCs: Volatile organic compounds speciation will be performed using offline sorbent tube sampling of cabin air for analysis by 1D and 2D gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GC-MS and GCxGC-MS).  This baseline will be used to calculate any well-understood health risks from exposure to those VOCs present.  Likely sources of the key cabin VOCSs will be identified.  Mitigation approaches will be tested experimentally and their effectiveness quantified.
2. PM2.5:  Fine particulate matter (including the ultrafine fraction) will be evaluated in realistic cabin environments using advanced optical particle counters (OPCs) for the larger particles (>500nm) and other techniques such as scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS) for the smaller particles (<800nm).  Well-understood health risks will be calculated based on exposures identified.  Mitigation approaches for removal of small particles will be proposed and tested.
3. Pathogens:  Bacteria and other pathogens present in typical cabin air samples will be cultured, categorised visually, and speciated using genome DNA sequencing techniques.  A range of options for controlling pathogens in a shared automotive cabin environment will be evaluated experimentally.

Working with our industrial partner, it is anticipated that this PhD will lead to clear recommendations for improving cabin air quality for future vehicles.

Training and skills

You will benefit from working with an interdisciplinary supervisory team covering the areas of VOCs, fine particulate matter, pathogens and engineering who will support you in learning experimental and analytical techniques you may not currently be familiar with.  Where needed, specialist training short courses will be provided to ensure you are equipped to conduct this ambitious interdisciplinary research.  Additionally you will have access to training through the university’s doctoral college and a wide range of doctoral training programmes University of Leicester participates in.

Partners and collaboration

Jaguar Land Rover Research Team based in Coventry are the EPSRC I-CASE partner for this PhD, and will provide guidance to ensure that scientific evidence generated through this research can be applied effectively by the company in the future.  A series of short secondments will be conducted throughout the PhD to provide you with exciting and highly relevant industrial experience.

The University of Leicester Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability will provide you with guidance on interpreting health impacts of indoor exposures and a strong linkage to its cohort of interdisciplinary PhD students.

Funding

Funding

This project is eligible for a fully funded EPSRC iCASE studentship which includes :

A full UK/EU fee waiver
An annual tax free stipend of £15009 (2019/20)
An annual stipend top up of £3000 
Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)
Conference Fees & UK Fieldwork
The duration of the studentship is 4 years.

Studentship is available to UK applicants and EU who meet the EPSRC UK Residency Criteria; if you have been ordinarily resident in the UK for three years prior to study you will normally be entitled to apply for a full studentship. 

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Evidence of English language proficiency if applicable

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries to pgrphys@le.ac.uk

Application enquiries pgradmissions@le.ac.uk  

How to apply

How to apply

Please use the Apply Button at the bottom of this page.  Select September 2020 entry

When applying, please ensure we have received all of the following required documents by the application closing date:

  • Application Form
  • 2 academic references - at least one letter of reference must be received by the application deadline
  • CV
  • Personal statement explaining why you want to be considered for this project
  • Degree Certificates and Transcripts
    • If you have completed your undergraduate degree please provide a copy degree certificates and transcripts
    • If you have completed your postgraduate degree please provide a copy of your degree certificates and transcripts
    • If you are still completing study please provide transcripts to-date

In the funding section of the application please state EPSRC iCASE

In the proposal section please state name of supervisor and project title in the space provided 

If we do not have the required documents by the closing date, your application may not be considered for the studentship.

Eligibility

Eligibility

The Studentship is available to UK applicants and EU who meet the EPSRC UK 3 years Residency Criteria

EU applicants living outside of the UK will not be eligible in this instance.

To check eligibility please email pgradmissions@le.ac.uk and quote Phys Vande Hey 2020