PhD project in Ecological Control Strategies for Biobutanol Production

DTU Chemical Eng.
Tuesday 24 Oct 17

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A PhD position is available in the frame of an international research collaboration between DTU Chemical Engineering (Process and Systems Engineering Center (PROSYS)), TU Delft (NL), TU Berlin (DE), Lund University (SE), University of Queensland (AU), and industrial partner Novozymes. The project is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF FTP Research Project “GREENLOGIC”) and is set out to explore a novel production route for value-added green chemicals and biofuels such as biobutanol.

State-of-the-art microbial production platforms are based on pure cultures that require costly sterile operating conditions and expensive substrates (e.g. glucose). Mixed microbial eco-biotechnology offers an alternative approach where high-value chemicals can be produced from low-value feedstock and even waste streams. According to that logic, microbial species with desired metabolic capabilities have to be enriched through engineering the environment, rather than the organism. This means, studying and improving the process conditions for optimum product yield are key aspects of this research.

In this project, you will investigate biobutanol production in mixed microbial cultures by a combination of advanced lab experiments and computational modelling. It is aimed to enrich biobutanol-forming species with the ability to use cheap feedstocks (e.g. butyrate) as carbon source. The microbial composition will be monitored using molecular techniques (e.g. DGGE and pyrosequencing). Microbial structure analysis of reactor samples will be performed in the course of a 3-month secondment at TU Delft. Ecological control strategies will be assessed based on butanol yield and production rate, effective suppression of side-products (e.g. CH4), and a shift in the microbial community structure favouring butanol-forming species.

The improved fundamental understanding of these microbial interactions will contribute to the development and validation of a generalized mathematical model integrating the production of high-value green chemicals with resource and energy recovery.

Candidates should have a master's degree in chemical and biochemical engineering or a similar degree with an academic level equivalent to the master's degree in engineering. Besides a strong commitment to research, the PhD student should preferably have experience with running fermentation experiments under anaerobic conditions, molecular techniques (e.g. DGGE and pyrosequencing), and data analysis/programming (e.g. Matlab, Python). Proficiency of spoken and written English is required as well as good communication and self-management skills. International collaboration is key to the project encompassing a 3-month secondment at TU Delft. Therefore, it is essential to possess (and/or develop) the skills to communicate efficiently with international project partners. Eventually, the ideal candidate for the position has preferably documented experience from international collaborative projects or internships.

Approval and Enrolment
The scholarship for the PhD degree are subject to academic approval, and the candidates will be enrolled in one of the general degree programmes of DTU. For information about the general requirements for enrolment and the general planning of the scholarship studies, please see the DTU PhD Guide.

We offer
DTU is a leading technical university globally recognized for the excellence of its research, education, innovation and scientific advice. We offer a rewarding and challenging job in an international environment. We strive for academic excellence in an environment characterized by collegial respect and an academic freedom tempered by responsibility.

Salary and appointment terms
The appointment will be based on the collective agreement with the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations. The allowance will be agreed with the relevant union. The period of employment is 3 years. The position is available from January 1, 2018.

Further information
Further information may be obtained from Professor Krist V. Gernaey, e-mail

You can read more about DTU Chemical Engineering here

Please submit your online application no later than 20 November 2017 (Local time). Applications must be submitted as one PDF file containing all materials to be given consideration. To apply, please open the link "Apply online", fill in the online application form, and attach all your materials in English in one PDF file. The file must include: 

  • A letter motivating the application (cover letter)
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Grade transcripts and BSc/MSc diploma
  • Excel sheet with translation of grades to the Danish grading system (see guidelines and excel spreadsheet here)

Candidates may apply prior to ob­tai­ning their master's degree, but cannot begin before having received it.

All interested candidates irrespective of age, gender, race, disability, religion or ethnic background are encouraged to apply.  

DTU is a technical university providing internationally leading research, education, innovation and scientific advice. Our staff of 5,800 advance science and technology to create innovative solutions that meet the demands of society; and our 11,000 students are being educated to address the technological challenges of the future. DTU is an independent academic university collaborating globally with business, industry, government, and public agencies.