CFD based design of storage units for fruit and vegetables (ref. BAP-2023-40): The lab of Prof. Nicolai consists of a team of young, dynamic and enthusiastic researchers that investigate processes and technology for improving quality of horticultural products such as fruit and vegetables, with a strong engineering approach. We offer a stimulating work environment for those who are interested in scientific research on the verge of fundamental and applied research, with a high relevance to making a more sustainable world. KU Leuven is a world-class university and ranked 42 on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and ranks 7 on Reuters Most Innovative Universities Worldwide (being No. 1 in Europe).

While the state of the art provides computational tools for insight in airflow and heat transfer during storage and transport, gas exchange has been largely uncovered so far. To exploit better the potential of respiratory control of the produce during storage and transport,fundamental research will be required to expand the computational tools to provide understanding into the mechanisms and consequences of the distribution of respiratory gasses and the dynamic changes of quality attributes of products from harvest across storage and transport to shelf life.

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a computational simulation tool to study cooling processes both on a small and large scale, from individual packages up to industrial cool rooms. In this modelling approach, the governing Navier-Stokes and related transport equations are solved throughout the domain of interest using numerical discretisation methods that can use unstructured meshes which can be refined in regions of interest. Specific information that is otherwise hard to obtain experimentally can so be gathered at a high spatiotemporal resolution.CFD models of cool rooms have been successfully developed by KU Leuven.

The focus has been largely on applications of temperature uniformity and optimization of postharvest treatments using porous media models of which parameters are identified by experiments. Previous research on long-term storage and transportation employing the porous medium approach include application cases for chicory roots, pears and apples, among others. With dedicated experiments or explicit CFD models with fruit shape models, the parameters for simulation models were estimated and approximate heat transfer was solved.

To elaborate the CFD model towards controlled atmosphere storage and transport applications,models for gas exchange and respiration kinetics will need to be included. A complete model will need to be developed considering comprehensively the fruit metabolism and diffusion in the 3D fruit shape, the transport and exchanges in fruit filled storage containers and the airflow in the cool room, accounting for biological variability. For upscaling from individual fruit to large rooms, homogenisation approaches will need to be implemented. Models will be verified by dedicated measurements in cool rooms and pilot containers.For the latter a specific testing facility will be built and used throughout the project.

Eventually you will achieve a comprehensive CFD model of storage units and investigate and optimize uniformity of conditions, for design and evaluation of controlled atmosphere solutions.


The lab is looking for a highly motivated PhD candidate who is eager to become part of a highly visible international interdisciplinary team to perform cutting-edge research. You have a critical mind and you have good affinity with advanced computer modelling and simulation. You are required to have a Master degree (or equivalent) in (bioscience) engineering, physics or mathematics.


The lab offers you a 4 year PhD position. The lab will support you in all aspects in order to successfully obtain a PhD degree and a proper scientific training. You will be given opportunities to participate at national and international meetings and establish your own network. You will have an advanced training in computational and experimental fluid dynamics and work closely with industry experts. You will have also great opportunities to develop transferal skills.


For more information please contact Dr. ir. Pieter Verboven, tel.: +32 16 32 14 53, mail: or Prof. dr. ir. Bart Nicolai, tel.: +32 16 32 23 75, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than February 28, 2023 via the online application tool

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