PhD position in emerging black soldier fly biowaste processing: 100%, Zurich, fixed-term:

The ETH Zurich Sustainable Food Processing group in the Department of Health Science and Technology uses a combined approach of emerging food safety concepts, novel protein processing, sustainability assessments and biowaste processing with the black soldier fly to target fundamental challenges in food science and society. Our research lies at the interface of biological systems and engineering. Without partners at the Department of Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development (Sandec) at Eawag and the Singapore-ETH Centre we are recruiting on a rolling basis (open until we identified a suitable candidate) for spring of 2023 or by mutual agreement a doctoral student.

Project background

Black soldier fly processing is an emerging technology for the recycling of organic waste. Depending on the rearing conditions, the process can be optimized towards different objectives including waste management or the production of different raw materials for food production. Unfortunately, ideal rearing conditions are poorly understood. Waste treatment and product quality are especially notoriously unreliable on wastes due to the natural variability in nutrient composition and microbial communities.

Identifying rearing conditions is complicated by many interconnected parameters such as feedstock composition, larval density, environmental conditions, rearing duration, feeding rate and height, affecting waste treatment and product quality. These rearing conditions should also include factors that affect the production of higher-value products beyond bulk protein and fats.

Job description

You are expected to explore heterogeneous and dynamic rearing conditions resulting in the optimization of higher-value products, for example, melanin, chitin or lauric acid. The objective is to develop a dynamic growth model that predicts rearing conditions for optimal waste treatment and production of high-value products. Ultimately, the findings are expected to increase the understanding of this novel process and aid the development of practical tools.

The research will be completed within the collaboration on black soldier fly research by ETH Zurich, Eawag and the Singapore-ETH Centre. The project background should be seen as a broad framework that can be detailed and altered based on the applicant’s background and interest.

As a Doctoral Candidate, you will be responsible for research working towards the development of a dynamic growth model to predict rearing conditions for waste treatment and the production of high-value products.

Your tasks will include:

  • Summarize the existing knowledge on the interplay between feedstock composition, rearing conditions, waste treatment performance and product quality
  • Identify ideal rearing conditions for efficient production of high-value products beyond protein/fats
  • Identify a conceptual framework and research approach for the development of a dynamic growth model considering existing models for similar systems such as composting and livestock farming
  • Design and execute complementary experiments to build a reliable growth model  
  • Apply and validate the dynamic model at a black soldier fly larvae processing facility
  • Communicating research outcomes at relevant international conferences and in peer-reviewed journals
  • Act at the interface between science and technology when supervising students and collaborating with partners from academia and industry

Your profile

  • A M.Sc. (or equivalent) in Environmental Engineering, Biotechnology, Computational Biology, Applied Entomology or Agricultural, Animal and Food Sciences (or similar)
  • A passion for sustainability, circular economy, and resource management
  • Expertise and interest in working with biological systems (e.g. animals, insects, microbes)
  • Interest to work with fly larvae and waste
  • Experience in multivariate statistics and modelling
  • Ability to work in a dynamic, international and interdisciplinary team
  • Interest in working independently and supervising students
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills in English
  • Scientific curiosity and motivation to perform scientifically rigorous experimental work

We offer

ETH Zurich is a family-friendly employer with excellent working conditions. You can look forward to an exciting working environment, cultural diversity and attractive offers and benefits.

We value diversity

In line with our values, ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected.

Curious? So are we.

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. The position is open to international students. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered. There is no formal application deadline. The call is open until we identified a suitable candidate.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • Cover letter outlining your motivation and experience in the field
  • Three-page research proposal within the project background described above
  • CV including two referees (name, affiliation, position, email address)
  • Any associated certificates (e.g. Master’s and Bachelor’s degree), and transcript of records you want us to consider

Please note that applications without these documents will not be considered. Questions regarding the position should be directed to Moritz Gold,

Apply online now

About ETH Zürich:

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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