PhD in development of fruit growth models for agrivoltaics applications; (ref. BAP-2023-116): The lab of Prof. Nicolai consists of a team of young, dynamic and enthousiastic researchers that investigates the physiology of perishable fruits and vegetables after harvest. 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 that is ranked 42 on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Project: There is an increased interest in exploiting the combination of production of renewable solar energy and food production. In particular, partially covering fruit production areas with solar panels may offer benefits in land use area, providing the required scale for photovoltaics to quickly deploy towards a zero carbon energy supply. 

While such agri-PV can represent a paradigm shift towards the rapid development of PV, there is also a high risk that agri-PV is incorrectly employed to justify “fake” systems that mainly generate electricity and not food. This eventuality would cause a rapid transformation of the landscape which might be nor sustainable, neither acceptable by society. 

Fruit yield and quality from crops are affected by the interaction of genetics, environment, and management, driving plant and fruit growth through their ecophysiological processes. Thereto, ecophysiological models for plants and fruits have been developed for different crops. In this growth process, photosynthesis and evapotranspiration are essential components that are likely modified in an agri-PV fruit production system, providing different light energy supply at the crop level, and changing local climate conditions such as temperature, humidity, and airflow.

Models connecting environmental conditions with plant physiology and plant 3D structure, explaining water and sugar flows in the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum should be developed to analyse and optimize agri-PV systems. Functional-structural model frameworks (FSMF) for plant growth are readily available in open-source repositories and can be effectively integrated with 3D light distribution models for agri-PV.

The aim for your PhD will be to develop and apply a spatially resolved model of fruit growth and quality, considering major crops in Belgium such as apple and pear. This model includes submodels for water transport, biomass production, photosynthesis, sugar and acid metabolism, respiration, and takes soil and climate parameters into account in the three-dimensional dynamically changing structure of the tree and fruit.

The model is to be validated based on spatial measurements of phenology and fruit development using advanced sensor techniques. The model will be used to investigate the effect on fruit production and quality of variations in climate conditions, measured across different spatial scales (micro to macro). Ultimately, your research will lead to the development of a decision support tool for agri-PV fruit growing that will serve as a means to better understand effects of the PV cover on fruit growing.


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 mathematics and computer programming. You are required to have a Master degree (or equivalent) in bioscience engineering or quantitative ecology, or in fields of computational engineering or mathematics with a keen interest in biology.


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. Leuven is a small city in the heart of Europe close to Brussels with a rich historic background. With more than 40 000 students it provides a vibrant environment for both research and living.


For more information please contact Dr. ir. Pieter Verboven, tel.: +32 16 32 14 53, mail:  or Dr. Maarten Hertog, tel.: +32 16 32 23 76, mail: You can apply for this job no later than March 31, 2023 via the online application tool

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