We welcome applications for a full-time PhD position within the Research Group Sustainable Systems Engineering (STEN) of the Department of Green Chemistry and Technology, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, UGent, in collaboration with the Research and Innovation department of Engie, Paris, France. The PhD student will be appointed in a fellowship position on the project “CRENMAT”.

A short summary of the CRENMAT project:

Recently, many studies alert to the challenge of the enormous amounts of critical raw materials that renewable energy technologies require as compared to fossil-based ones. We refer to this challenge as ‘From Emissions to Resources’ since on our way towards carbon neutrality through the reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, we must not forget this resource challenge.

Having access to these materials in a ‘sustainable’ way is therefore crucial to succeed in the energy transition. Of course securing the supply of an energy company like Engie is crucial but ‘Sustainable’ is not only related to having enough materials available but also refers to further improving the environmental and social impacts of mining/refining/manufacturing activities.

For the first time back in 2011, the EU has created a methodology to identify which materials are ‘critical’ for its economy. Since then, this methodology, and therefore the list, has been updated every 3 years and it serves as THE basis for EU policies on reducing its supply chain vulnerability on these materials.

The methodology plots for each material its supply chain risk on the y-axis versus the importance for the EU economy on the x-axis. If a material scores higher than a certain threshold on both axes, it is classified as ‘critical’. The methodology is solid and scientifically correct but as all methodologies has some shortcomings:

(i) it is based on past and today’s material supply chains and not forward looking,

(ii) it does not take environmental impact into account and

(iii) it only takes to a very limited extend ‘resilience’ into account (minor correction for recycling and substitution).

The objective of this PhD thesis is therefore to:

(i) Mapping the ‘supply chain risk’ from an energy company perspective in relation to the ‘Importance for the strategy’ of the energy company, in line with the generic EU criticality methodology;

(ii) Carefully addressing the stages in the supply chain, i.e. from raw materials extraction and refining over component manufacturing to the technology supply;

(iii) Incorporate a forward-looking dimension on materials, component and technology supply chain risks instead of the stationary and backwards looking approach the EU has adapted for materials so far; given the strong dynamics in the energy sector;

(iv) Incorporate a third dimension related to the energy company’s resilience to a material supply chain risk (eg. substitivity, recycling, alternative technologies, partnerships in place already or foreseen, …)

In order to make this specific for an energy company, lots of data will need to be collected and discussions with several departments of the energy company (e.g. laboratories, procurement, business units, strategy, …) are crucial. Moreover, guidance and input from external experts from UGent and institutes like BRGM are equally important to ensure a scientifically correct methodology is developed.

Job profile

Candidates are expected to have an engineering (bioscience, material …) background and/or affinity with renewable energy technologies and life cycle sustainability analysis methods such as material flow analysis, life cycle assessment or criticality assessment, and be acquainted with the circular economy concept. For this project we are looking for someone who is critical, analytical and has a sense of initiative.

Other profile requirements:

  • You hold a master’s degree bioscience engineering, sustainable and innovative natural resource management, chemical engineering, industrial ecology, environmental technology or equivalent. The degree requirements must be met at the start of the appointment.
  • You are interested in scientific research in order to obtain a doctoral degree.
  • You have good writing and presentation skills.
  • You have a very good oral and written knowledge of academic English.
  • You live in Belgium or are willing to settle here for the duration of the appointment.
  • You have experience in carrying out quantitative and/or qualitative research
  • You have experience with sustainability assessment and working with LCA software such as openLCA, Gabi, SimaPro, etc. and LCA databases (e.g. ecoinvent).

How to apply

Please apply to this vacancy no later than April 30th 2023 by sending an e-mail to: Dr. ir. Sue Ellen Taelman (SueEllen.Taelman@UGent.be).The subject of the email should contain the following title: ‘Application PhD CRENMAT + family name’.

The following documents must be submitted:

  • letter of motivation,
  • CV,
  • a copy of the highest degree and a summary of the results of the studies.
  • Students graduating in June, July, August or September 2023 are also welcome to apply.

Selection procedure:

  • Preselection based on the provided documents
  • Selection based on interviews
  • Planned starting date doctoral position: October 1st, 2023 (limited duration: 4 years)
  • You will be recruited on the basis of competencies.

Qualities of people are decisive, regardless of gender, religion, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation or any disability.

For more information about the content of this position and the CRENMAT project, please contact jo.dewulf@ugent.be  or jan.mertens@engie.com.  The subject of the email should contain the following title: ‘Application PhD CRENMAT + family name’.

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