The sustainability aspects of multifunctional materials are increasingly a focus of research and development. Resource strategies used to improve the environmental and socio-economic sustainability of materials include:
•    Sustainability management and responsible sourcing of critical extractive materials like precious metals and rare earth elements.
•    Bio-based materials sourced from renewable resources that can replace fossil and mineral-based materials while providing improved resource availability and cost-effectiveness.
•    Nano-structures that minimize the use of resources through selective material applications like coatings.
•    Resource efficiency means using the Earth's resources in a sustainable manner while minimizing impacts on the environment. It allows us to create more with less.
•    Reuse, recovery and recycling (3R’s) approaches that maintain materials in economic use as long as possible.

There is a need for a global approach based in science and management for sustainability tools and techniques that deal explicitly with industrial materials.
As materials science around the world advances in response to needs in health care, mobility, energy and communication technologies, direction is needed to guide resource strategies and provide science-based assessments of critical and novel materials. Useful related approaches include product life cycle assessment (LCA) and materials flow analysis (MFA), which may be used jointly with environmental management, and impact and health risk assessment. Green chemistry principles have been developed to help chemists to reduce dependence on toxic materials, and to foster energy and material efficiency, and renewable resources. More generally, new tools will provide sustainability assessment results in support of the design-for-environment of materials and related processes..

The aim of the PhD project is to develop a globally applicable model that is consistent with life cycle assessment, but which brings in issues relevant to criticality, resource productivity, green chemistry and bio-sourcing assessment into one decision-making framework. Sustainability assessment includes environmental and socio-economic dimensions, and might lead to a framework for sustainability certification of new materials.

The research approach begins with the analysis of one or more different types of materials systems (e.g., critical metals, bio-based materials, nano-structures, recycled materials) to examine issues and establish an assessment framework. Drawing from methods like LCA and risk assessment, and principles of green chemistry, this leads to a model and a set of basic indicators relevant to the sustainability assessment of industrial materials that will help to classify them according to their respective resource productivity opportunities and resource criticality risks.

The PhD thesis will be developed under a program of close cooperation between two universities in Canada and France. As a first step of this collaboration, we will identify several novel materials developments where improved sustainability is important and where issues of resource strategies are highly relevant to ensure that the novel material can finally make its way to the market. 

Potential cases of novel materials developments that may be analyzed included several where international industrial interest is possible:
•    PV solar panel critical materials. As the number of solar panels installations grows, there is a building concern that we need to effectively reuse critical metals present. The current stock of PV will be recovered relatively easily, as locations are known and managed. Valuable trace metals and silver connectors could be metallurgically extracted, however, silicon wafers are not easily reused and PV systems pose technical and life cycle challenges.
•    Carbon fibers reinforced plastics composites find increased use in airplanes. These materials are now also used for automotive, leisure and sports applications, driven by aesthetic criteria, as well as actual technical properties. One question is whether carbon ?bers may be recycled from airplanes for use in these less demanding automotive and consumer applications, in a cost effective and sustainable way.
•    Bio-based functional polymeric materials from crops and forest resources are often readily available, inherently biodegradable, and broadly useful. These polymers display a wide range of thermo-physical and mechanical properties and are promising alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. Questions with regard to sustainability cover issues like water and land use and a need for adequate yields for socio-economic value creation.
•    Fullerene derivatives. High production cost and limited availability of fullerenes have been main obstacles in the development of fullerene and soluble fullerene derivative markets. Since, fullerenes are poised to become commodity chemicals in many applications such as organic solar cells, progress is being made. Questions arise on options to reduce the cost of the extraction and purification of fullerene by developing a more resource-efficient process.
•    Photo-detector materials. Imaging cameras for the large consumer electronics market use silicon but on-going research to improve performance is focusing on light-sensing materials, including Cd and Pb, both of which are unattractive from an environmental perspective. Alternative materials such as organic photo-detectors and inorganic materials with lower toxicity are interesting alternatives from a sustainable manufacturing perspective.
•    New energy technologies rare and critical metals like rare earth elements, indium and platinum are proliferating in electric vehicle batteries, hydrogen storage systems, wind turbines, small motors, and advanced electronics. Design-for environment methods and information-based tools are needed to provide targeted end-of-life recovery in a cost effective and environmentally sensitive manner.


The final deliverables of the PhD study will include:
•    At least three new case studies of different novel materials developments with regard to sustainability aspects, resource strategies or green chemistry approaches using life cycle assessment or other tools for materials management.
•    Decision-making framework established to identify and rate potential resource productivity opportunities versus resource criticality risks.
•    A set of material sustainability and resource indictors that can be used to guide materials science R&D
•    Resource strategy scheme proposing how to structure different types of materials being developed in science and engineering according to their resource productivity potential for providing breakthrough solutions for current societal needs and challenges versus resource criticality aspects that might hinder their future market uptake

Overall, this PhD project will be at the crossroads of a larger collaborative work and have a interdisciplinary nature that will unite expertise in material synthesis and characterization, material integration and device design, sustainability modeling, resource strategies and sustainability assessment.

Candidate Profile

The student will have high geographical mobility, as this project will be shared between the University of Waterloo in Canada and the University of Bordeaux in France. He/she will have also to demonstrate creativity and willingness-to-learn, as the success of this project will require the understanding of materials science, chemistry and process engineering, along with sustainability assessment and understanding of resource strategies and socio-economics. Finally, communication skills will be a plus as continuous interaction among partners will be one of the tasks of the student.

To be approved for the position, the student must be accepted by all Institutions, after the initial approval by the IDS-FunMat program. More specifically, University of Waterloo requires specific English skills. More information can be found at:

Project Partners

•    University Waterloo (Canada) – School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) and Department of Environment and Resource Studies (ERS)

•    Université de Bordeaux (France) – Institut des Sciences Moléculaires (ISM, CNRS UMR 5255)
Please review detailed admission and PhD degree requirements for each university.

•    Myriant Corporation