Joe Wood

Joseph Wood

Colleges, School and Institutes

Research interests

Catalysis and chemical reaction engineering lie at the core of many chemical and biochemical processes. Research activities cover the fundamental catalyst design, through formulation and catalyst manufacture, to operational issues and reactor design.  The group aims to optimize reactor type, design and operating conditions to get the best performance and product selectivity in a particular reaction.  Application areas have recently concentrated on energy, including upgrading of heavy oils and bitumen from the Canadian oilsands, capture of carbon dioxide from power station flue gases, upgrading of bio-oil and related model compounds and recycling of renewable polymers.  Funded research projects currently active within the group include:

Novel Membrane Catalytic Reactor for Waste Polylactic Acid Recycling and Valorisation (EPSRC) with University of Bath

The disposal of plastic packaging represents a significant environmental problem; although recycling of plastics has increased in recent years, current recycling methods are mainly mechanical or chemical techniques that result in lower grade second life products and much material is also still disposed of to landfill. The introduction of plastics produced from biological sources such as plant derived sugars has potential to reduce reliance on fossil derived sources and decrease emissions of greenhouse gases associated with manufacture. Polylactide has emerged as one of the most promising biorenewable and biodegradable polymers which has uses in packaging, textile and biomedical applications. However the lack of a reliable method for recycling polylactide could limit its widespread application and market growth. A significant opportunity therefore exists to develop a process to depolymerise/degrade commodity PLA to produce value-added small molecules, such as lactate esters, via routes which have not previously been developed. Such molecules could be recycled to make new PLA or other value added chemicals, including solvents, fragrances and plasticizers.  We propose to address the above problems by developing a catalytic process for degradation/depolymerisation of PLA, integrated with a membrane separation to selectively isolate small molecule products within a specified molecular weight cut off range, as valuable products. 

Electromagnetically-assisted Catalytic-upgrading of Heavy Oil (ECHO) (EPSRC) with University of Nottingham

In order to ensure future energy security, sources of fuel that are considered unconventional today must be developed, including the existing vast heavy oil and bitumen reserves. Although there are large reserves of such oils in Canada and Venezuela, the techniques could potentially be applied in other parts of the World, e.g. sub surface recovery in partially depleted wells in the North Sea. In order to minimise the environmental impact of extraction of these reserves as much of the processing should be done sub-surface as possible, thereby reducing the requirement for expensive hydrogen and additional energy needed in 'surface upgrader' refineries. This project aims to develop an oil upgrading 'plant' to run underground, in conjunction with the oil recovery process itself, such that it has minimal surface footprint and confines emissions underground. In order to do this we will deploy several technologies in combination: Toe-to-Heel Air Injection (THAI) is an in-situ combustion technique which combusts a small fraction of the oil to generate heat for thermal upgrading and cracking of oil molecules to lighter components required for transportation fuels.  This project will combine thermal and electromagnetic approaches to create a new hybrid technology capable of efficient downhole upgrading, and aims to optimise the catalyst formulation to use with this technology.

Reaction-Separation Engineering for the Production of Bio-based Chemicals (UK Catalysis Hub) with University of Bath

As the security of supply of oil becomes increasingly uncertain, an increase in the use of renewable resources is expected. 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a key renewable compound, which can be readily obtained from hexose sugars. HMF can be oxidized to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), a potential renewable replacement for the monomers used to manufacture polyamides, polyesters and polyurethanes e.g. renewable packaging. It can also undergo reductive deoxygenation to 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF) or reduction to 2,5-dimethyltetrahydrofuran (DMTHF). Both have high energy density and low volatility and so are potential renewable fuel replacements.  This project seeks a world leading novel process for the production of HMF and its derivatives, with 4 key innovations: A: improved homogeneous catalysts for the production of HMF; B: a novel membrane reactor technology for HMF production/separation; C: develop heterogeneous catalysts and processes for downstream conversion of HMF to its derivatives; D: kinetic modeling.

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Carbon Capture and Storage and Cleaner Fossil Energy (EPSRC, led by Prof. Colin Snape, University of Nottingham)

The strategic vision of the IDC is to develop a world-leading Centre for Industrial Doctoral Training focussed on delivering research leaders and next-generation innovators with broad economic, societal and contextual awareness, having strong technical skills and capable of operating in multi-disciplinary teams covering a range of knowledge transfer, deployment and policy roles.


Joe Wood qualified with a BEng degree in Chemical Engineering with Environmental Protection from Loughborough University in 1995. He worked at Albright and Wilson in Whitehaven from 1995-97 as a Graduate Chemical Engineer. He then studied for a PhD at the University of Cambridge, with thesis topic Transport and Reaction in Porous Catalysts under the supervision of Professor Lynn Gladden, which was awarded in 2001. Since 2001 he has worked at the University of Birmingham as Lecturer (2001-2008), Senior Lecturer (2008-2010), Reader (2010-2012) and Professor (2012-Present).

Professor Wood held a Junior Research Fellowship at Hughes Hall Cambridge from 1998-2000 and an Exxon Mobil Teaching Fellowship from 2004-2007.

Professor Wood’s research focuses on the application of catalysis and reactor engineering to solve problems of energy supply, environmental concerns and to deliver chemical products in a more sustainable way.

He teaches on Chemical Engineering programmes in the School, is Examinations Officer and IChemE Liaison Officer.


  • Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, University of Birmingham, 2003
  • CEng, MIChemE, Institution of Chemical Engineers, 2002
  • PhD in Chemical Engineering, University of Cambridge, 2001
  • BEng in Chemical Engineering with Environmental Protection, University of Loughborough, 1995
  • Diploma in Industrial Studies, Loughborough University, 1995

Willingness to take PhD students


PhD projects

Joe Wood’s research activities cover fundamental catalyst design, through formulation and catalyst manufacture to operational issues and reactor design. His group aims to optimise reactor type, design and operating conditions to get the best performance and product selectivity in a particular reaction. Professor Wood’s group welcomes applications from prospective doctoral researchers on topics such as:

Upgrading of heavy oils
Development of adsorbents for carbon dioxide capture
Testing of bionanocatalysts
Catalysis for sustainable technologies
Modelling of carbon capture at power plants
Upgrading of bio-oils and associated model compounds
Chemical recycling of polymers and membrane separation