Thermochemical processing of non-recyclable waste streams

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven


October 22, 2022


Thermochemical processing of non-recyclable waste streams

(ref. BAP-2022-646)

Last modification : Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The ChEMaRTS research team is based at Campus Group T Leuven and focusses strongly on the industrial treatment and valorization of non-recyclable waste streams. Currently, ChEMaRTS counts three professors and a number of highly competent and motivated PhD students, all active under the unit of Sustainable Materials Processing and Recycling (SeMPeR) of the Department of Materials Engineering (MTM) and the Department of Chemical Engineering (CIT).

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By EU waste policy, an irreversible treatment of non-recyclable waste through thermal processing (i.e., incineration or gasification) is mandatory to keep intended cycles of materials in the Circular Economy clean and safe. This way, the energetic content of the waste can be largely recovered in the form of electricity, steam/heat, energy carriers (syngas) and/or valuable organic compounds, whilst toxic organic compounds are destroyed. It also creates opportunities for advanced recovery of inorganic materials and compounds of high interest from the ashes generated. However, when waste is exposed to high-temperature environments in thermal processes, the inorganics present in the waste exhibit a complex behavior by which they are distributed over solid, gas and liquid outputs. In state-of-the-art thermal processing plants for non- recyclable waste, the behavior of inorganics is still highly uncontrolled and provokes significant operational problems. It also poses challenges in view of increasing yields of energy and materials from the waste treated, reducing chemicals for treatment of flue gasses and residues generated, and implementing carbon capture technologies.

The objective of this PhD project is to develop an in-depth understanding of the complex multiphase behavior of inorganic compounds present in (selected) wastes when gasified or incinerated. The PhD project mainly comprises experimental work and aims at unravelling the influence of physical process conditions imposed (in terms of temperature, pressure, flow, and induced heat and mass transfer) on chemical effects observed. A thermal waste reactor at the pilot-scale, equipped with advanced analytical equipment, will be used to research different types of waste under industrially representative process conditions and temperatures up to 1250°C. Examples of waste types of interest are: tyre rubbers (containing Zn and Mg), brominated flame retardant plastics (Br and Sb), anti-microbial packaging materials and textiles (Ag and Cu), pruning wood from vineyards (Cu and S), CCA-treated wood (Cu, Cr and As) and sewage sludge from municipal waste water treatment (P). The PhD is partially funded by leading companies in the European Waste-to-Energy industry. The work will be executed in close interaction with universities from Ljubljana and Budapest, which opens up the possibility for a stay abroad.

Expected results:

- Start-up and exploration of a new, pilot-scale, thermal waste reactor in the lab;

- Establishment of a coherent and qualitative set of experimental data;

- Elucidation of correlations between physical conditions applied and chemical effects observed;

- Multiple (2-3) Scientific publications;

- Application for a PhD scholarship;

- PhD dissertation.

The person in this position is also expected to carry out educational tasks for about 10-15% of his/her time.


The successful candidate:

- holds a MSc degree in chemical engineering science/technology or bioscience engineering;

- has a strong knowledge of (disciplines related to) reactor and process engineering;

- has a good knowledge of inorganic chemistry and instrumental analytic methods;

- is strongly motivated to execute experimental work with a new pilot-scale setup;

- is willing to develop advanced data-analysis skills (Excell, Python, or equivalent);

- has a problem-solving and pioneering mindset;

- is an enthusiastic and enterprising team-player;

- can assist student project work, exercise and lab sessions for chemical (engineering) courses;

- is fluent in English (both spoken and written).

Prior experience with experimental work and/or (extensive) data modelling are regarded as a plus.


KU Leuven is among the top universities in Europe (ranked 48th in general and 45th in engineering according to Times Higher Education world university ranking). The Group T campus is located in Leuven, a historic, dynamic and lively city located in the heart of Belgium, within 20 minutes from Brussels, the capital of the European Union, and less than two hours from Paris, London and Amsterdam.

We offer:

- a full-time employment as a doctoral student for a period of one year to be renewed every year up to 4 years upon positive evaluation;

- a research position in a research environment across the fields of chemistry, reactor engineering and materials science in a young, enthusiastic and international team;

- an attractive salary package, complemented with multiple benefits (health insurance, access to university infrastructure and sports facilities, etc.);

- the opportunity to participate in international conferences and the possibility to spend a research stay at one of our international contacts;

- a thorough scientific education and the possibility to obtain a PhD degree from a highly-ranked university;

- the tools required to start building an academic career (coaching, training, networking, etc.)


For more information please contact Prof. dr. ing. Jo Van Caneghem, tel.: +32 16 30 10 53, mail: or Prof. dr. Johan De Greef, tel.: +32 16 37 60 49, mail:

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

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