KU Leuven

Advanced catalytic organosolv fractionation process for complex feedstocks

2023-10-13 (Europe/Brussels)
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KU Leuven is an autonomous university. It was founded in 1425. It was born of and has grown within the Catholic tradition.

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The mission statement of the CSCE (Sustainable Catalysis and Engineering) is to produce knowledge to foster a better understanding of the role of heterogeneous catalysis in the upcoming circular and carbon-smart economy. CSCE research covers the range of fundamental to applied catalysis research, both in chemistry and engineering. For this particular vacancy, we're looking for a motivated and independent PhD researcher that leverages holistic utilization of complex, underutilized feedstock by a novel fractionation technique with the end goal to produce lipids that are used to manufacture sustainable, plant-based pet food that do not rely on animal production.

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The meat industry at large is a leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water and air pollution. Plant-based meat alternatives are promising but require lipids that are currently obtained from vegetable oil, that puts pressure on the environment by deforestation and biodiversity loss while also not being able to replace the nutritional requirements support by animal fat. We are looking for a PhD candidate who will help to exploit alternative, complex and underutilized feedstock that are rich in C and N sources by developing a novel fractionation technique. The aim is to maximally extract C and N that are used as source for fermentative lipid production. In the project you will use reductive catalytic fractionation (RCF) – a well-understood technique in the Sels lab – as starting point to iterate reaction conditions and perform full scope analysis of all side streams that are produced. Extraction of N as peptides might require additional pretreatment steps in order to obtain a usable source for fermentative lipid production.
The project involves in iteration of the RCF process by changes in solvent additions (alcohol:water ratio’s, acids or alkaline additions,…), reaction time and temperature and in depth analysis of the produced fractions, being: a carbohydrate pulp (C-source), a aqueous solution containing peptides and dissolved carbohydrates (N- and C-source) and a lignin oil (out of scope but requires analysis). As a novelty, you will obtain insights into the effect of each iteration on the form of peptides and proteins that are extracted from the feedstock. In addition, the various carbohydrate pulps will need to be hydrolyzed by enzymatic saccharification for which you will test a selection of enzyme cocktails, and the resulting hydrolysate will serve as C-source for fermentation. Anticipated in-house techniques include chromatography (GC, GC-MS, HPLC), NMR, protein analysis (Dumas, Kjeldahl) and  in-depth biomass characterization which might need further alterations depending on the feedstock. You will have close collaboration on the project with project partners within KU Leuven where you will perform N-analysis and discuss which RCF process conditions yield suitable N-and C-sources for fermentations. Presentation and communication skills will be of utmost importance. The ultimate goal is the completion of a PhD under the supervision of prof. Bert Sels and the publication of high quality research papers.


  • You are recently graduated with a master degree in chemical engineering, chemistry, materials science, or a related discipline 
  • Your grades show academic excellence and allow direct access to the doctoral program of KULeuven
  • You are highly motivated for applied chemistry research with a strong fundamental basis
  • You intend to pursue a PhD degree, committing to a four year research period on the described project.
  • You have an aptitude for hands-on laboratory work, and have some experience with relevant experimental research in the field from a master’s thesis (or other). 
  • You are able to work independently, and to report your progress in an accurate and timely fashion.
  • You aim to become a valuable member of the research group, sharing your (future) expertise to support the whole research group.
  • Your English is fluent, both spoken and written (please check admission requirement of KULeuven: Admission requirements) 


  • Full-time PhD position with a doctoral scholarship.
  • The opportunity to work and live in one of the most innovative universities and cities in Europe. Leuven is located 20 min from Brussels, in the center of Europe.
  • International working environment and possibility to present your work at international conferences.
  • A state-of-the-art experimental infrastructure.
  • To support you during your PhD and to prepare you for the rest of your career, you will participate in the Arenberg Doctoral School doctoral training program 


Candidates can apply by submitting their CV, motivation letter and grade lists via the online application tool. Please also include when you would be available to start, and the names and contact details of at least two relevant references (preferably senior researchers) that are willing to write a letter of recommendation upon request. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

For further questions: csce.applications@kuleuven.be.

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.

Job details

Advanced catalytic organosolv fractionation process for complex feedstocks
Oude Markt 13 Leuven, Belgium
Application deadline
2023-10-13 23:59 (Europe/Brussels)
2023-10-13 23:59 (CET)
Job type
Save job

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About the employer

KU Leuven is an autonomous university. It was founded in 1425. It was born of and has grown within the Catholic tradition.

Visit the employer page