Job offers

All our PhD and postdoctoral fellowships are available on VITO website: https://vito.be/en/jobs

Master/Bachelor Internships

Polymer design for recycling

The ever-increasing consumption of polymeric materials stimulates the development of improved and optimized utilization and recycling methods for these materials. While recycling is possible for main groups of plastic such as polyolefins, polyethylene teraphtalate or polyvinyl chloride (thermoplastics), the vast amount of high performance materials cannot be that easily recycled. Thermosets have excellent mechanical properties, dimensional stability and chemical resistance, however a permanent nature of the chemical bonds within the material hampers the recycling. Materials like polyurethane foams, epoxy composites or acrylic coatings account for a significant portion of the market, yet we do not possess an integrated end-of-life technology for these materials. Traditionally, the disposal consists of landfilling, energy recovery or destructive removal.

In this project the student will consider macromolecular design as a tool to engineer recyclability handle into difficult to recycle polymers. The incorporation of this mechanism into bulk networks is expected to (i) enable the material to be reprocessed or reshaped so consequently extent its lifetime or (ii) enable the recovery of building blocks.

The daily tasks include a synthesis and characterization of high-performance polymeric materials with a focus on thermosetting resins.  In a course of the project the candidate will learn the following techniques:

  • Organic synthesis and structural analysis (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR)) on a small molecule scale as well as the network scale.
  • Determination of thermal properties of materials via differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) such as glass transition temperature and degradation profiles.
  • Routine state-of-the-art characterization of thermosetting resins such as cross-linking density and gel content.
  • Advanced characterization techniques including rheological determination of the relaxation phenomena in polymers.

The candidate is expected to do a substantial amount of the experimental work and report it to the supervisor. The level of the complexity of the project will be adjusted according to the progress made by the candidate.

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Richard Vendamme richard.vendamme@vito.be

APPLICATION-ORIENTED MATERIAL DEVELOPMENT USING RENEWABLE POLYMERS AND ADDITIVES

Of the several million tons of plastic produced annually, only around 1/3 is being recycled with Europe as a world leader. At the moment, plastics are mechanically recycled which typically results in inferior product quality.

At VITO we are investigating chemical recycling as a promising alternative to mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling aims to depolymerize plastic waste back to its constitute monomers (such as polyols) which can be used in a closed-loop polymer cycle to make virgin polymers with identical performance, or as an additive for other plastics.

Furthermore, VITO is also heavily involved in the sourcing of biobased monomers or oligomers (through depolymerization of biomass such as lignin) as an alternative carbon source for the plastic industry.

The goal of this project is to characterize in-depth the performance of these polymers designed from recycling and biobased components for real-world applications. Additionally, biobased monomers or oligomers are very promising alternatives to typical fossil-derived additives as they exhibit excellent anti-oxidative, anti-microbial, anti-static, thermal, and UV-blocking properties.

The project will rely on various analytical techniques such as FTIR, GPC, NMR, DSC, TGA, as well as mechanical characterization techniques such as rheology, DMA, or tensile testing.

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Polymer Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Ir. Maarten Rubens: maarten.rubens@vito.be

Economic feasibility and environmental impact of sustainable processes

Are you interested in new, sustainable processes and are you particularly curious about their economic feasibility and environmental impact? Then techno-economic analysis are for you. With new technologies there are often still many uncertainties and it is unclear which options are most promising. Is the investment cost the deciding factor, or should we mainly reduce energy consumption or increase productivity? Which research goals need to be achieved? Our team tries to formulate answers to these questions in close cooperation with technology developers and searches for promising value chains with the help of techno-economic analyses. In a techno-economic analysis, we simultaneously examine the processes from a technical and economic point of view. We do these analyses on the basis of desktop research and through intensive communication with process developers.

The aim of this project is that you perform a techno-economic analysis for a topic that is of interest to the SPOT team (e.g. plastic recycling, biomass valorization and polymer formulation).  

Requirements:

You hold a BS degree, are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested in emerging technologies and evaluating the sustainability of them.

Contact person:

Dr. Miet Van Dael: miet.vandael@vito.be

 

BIOPOLYMER DESIGN USING LIGNIN OR LIGNIN OILS

The synthesis of (semi)aromatic polymers derived from renewable resources is currently attracting tremendous interest from both academia and industry, as aromatic compounds are key intermediates in the manufacture of polymers and chemicals. Lignin is the second most abundant natural polymer on earth (after cellulose), and represents the only large scale source of aromatic in Nature. Unfortunately, lignin is still poorly valorized today, and is mainly used as a low cost fuel. At Vito we have set ourselves the goal to change this situation: we aim to (partially) replace petroleum-based chemicals and polymers by using lignin derived chemicals.

This goal of this project is to synthesize new functional biopolymers derived from lignin fractions. Depending on the type of lignin, different chemical modifications and polymerization pathways will be envisaged and developed (such as polyurethanes, epoxy, polyester or polyacrylates), leading to (semi)aromatic polymers covering a wide range of industrial applications.

The project will rely on various analytical techniques such as FTIR, GPC, NMR, DSC, TGA, as well as mechanical characterization techniques such as rheology, DMA or tensile testing.

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Richard Vendamme richard.vendamme@vito.be

CHEMICAL DOWNSIZING OF LIGNIN

Lignin is the most abundant natural source of aromatics on earth. It is found in the structure of plants and trees. Currently, lignin is industrially produced as a by-product in the paper and pulp industry and in bioethanol plants but unfortunately is mostly burnt to get heat and power in the production sites it selves.

Due to the current trend to make materials more sustainable and turn the economy and production more circular the use of lignin is envisioned as a good alternative to fossil-based (aromatic) chemicals.

However, as lignin is a randomly organized heterogeneous and complex material its direct use for high-performance polymeric materials is not obvious. There are different ways to modify or change the structure of the lignin. Among those, lignin depolymerization is one of the most promising.

Lignin depolymerization makes the chains of lignin smaller, narrows down the polydispersity of the chains and renders monomeric, dimeric and oligomeric molecules with a more defined structure.

The more developed methods to perform the lignin depolymerization are; pyrolysis, acid-catalyzed depolymerization, base-catalyzed depolymerization, reductive catalytic depolymerization and hydrothermal liquefaction. At VITO we believe that reductive catalytic depolymerization is the best strategy to get suitable lignin-derived mixtures for material industry such as PU, epoxy or acrylates.

Tasks to develop during the internship:

  • Perform depolymerization experiments in continuous or batch reactors.
  • Sample collection and processing.
  • Sample preparation for analysis.
  • Catalyst bed preparation
  • Interpretation of results

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Jaime Gracia Vitoria: jaime.graciavitoria@vito.be

 

CHEMICAL RECYCLING OF PLASTICS

The extensive use of polymers causes the production of several million tons of waste plastics (29.1 Mt/y in 2018 in the EU) of which only 32.5% are recycled. Most of the recycling techniques are still based on mechanical methods that necessitate high feedstock purity and produce lower performance materials. An alternative is catalytic depolymerization, which is an interesting way of chemical recycling that is able to treat waste mixtures and create monomers to be used in a closed loop polymer cycle.

In this context, this project aims to create a unique and innovative solution for a global plastic waste recycling problem involving different types of polymer materials such as PET, PC and epoxy resins, as well as mixtures such as PET/PE, PET/PC and PC/ABS. While available technologies for the recycling of plastics mainly focus on pure streams and neglect mixtures, this project offers to treat waste mixtures. The characterization of recycled materials will be done using techniques such as FTIR, GPC, NMR, DSC and TGA.

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Ir. Elias Feghali: elias.feghali@vito.be

FEEDSTOCK PREPARATION FOR APPLICATION DEVELOPMENT

Research towards alternative and renewable resources to substitute fossil fuels has increased in recent years. Lignocellulosic biomass and its components (lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose) are considered a sustainable alternative. The variability of biomass sources, treatment processes, heterogeneity and presence of impurities, limit the utilization of these bio-based building blocks in up-scaled industrial production processes. Fractionation processes of biomass/biomass components are typically performed as initial step for the separation of desired components and hence, increase their valorization possibilities. Process conditions (solvent, temperature, catalyst, time, pressure) can be tuned in order to meet the requirements of the desired product. Other purification/pretreatment strategies like, solvent wash, reduction of particle size, hydrolysis and solubilization studies are also frequently performed as initial steps.

The aim of this project is to perform fractionation/purification experiments of biomass/biomass components. Optimization of process conditions (solvent, temperature, time, catalyst). Characterization of recovered materials (FTIR, GPC, P-NMR, polysaccharides, ash) and comparison with original feedstock.

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Sandra Corderí Gándara: sandra.corderigandara@vito.be

PHYSICAL RECYCLING OF PLASTICS & COMPOSITES (DISSOLUTION , PURIFICATION)

The global production of plastics is continuously increasing, from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 368 million tons in 2019, and with it the amount of plastic waste. Today, only 9% of plastics are recycled worldwide. The diversity of raw materials, use of heterogeneous polymers and additives complicates the recycling process, making it costly and affecting the quality of the end product. The physical recycling of plastics using solvents is a very promising method. The plastic is dissolved in a selective solvent, then reprecipitated out of the solution using another solvent. This method allows (1) the separation of additives and contaminants (2) the preservation of the polymeric structure and (3) selective dissolution of mixed polymers.

The aim of this project is to perform solvent-assisted plastic recycling tests. Pre-selection of solvents based on efficiency, toxicity, and cost. Process optimization (solvent, non solvent, solid to liquid ratio, temperature). Characterization of recovered materials (FTIR, GPC, DSC, TGA, viscosity, tensile) and comparison with virgin counterparts.

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Sandra Corderí Gándara: sandra.corderigandara@vito.be

SUSTAINABLE POLYMER DESIGN FROM RECYCLING

The extensive use of polymers causes the production of several million tons of waste plastics (29.1 Mt/y in 2018 in the EU) of which only 32.5% are recycled. Most of the recycling techniques are still based on mechanical methods that necessitate high feedstock purity and produce lower performance materials. A promising alternative to mechanical recycling is chemical recycling, which aims at depolymerizing plastic waste in order to create monomers (such as polyols) to be used in a closed loop polymer cycle.

The goal of this project is to synthesize new functional polymers using recycled building blocks as feedstocks. Depending on the type of molecules obtained from the chemical recycling processes (eg. polyols, monomers or oligomers…), different chemical modifications and polymerization pathways will be envisaged and developed (such as polyurethanes, epoxy, polyester or polyacrylates), leading to sustainable polymers covering a wide range of industrial applications.

The project will rely on various analytical techniques such as FTIR, GPC, NMR, DSC, TGA, as well as mechanical characterization techniques such as rheology, DMA or tensile testing.

Requirements:

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are interested to acquire hands-on experience by running innovative experimental set-ups. You have a result-driven character capable of translating theory to practice and vice versa and are able to find solutions. You are fluent in English and eager to write scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Richard Vendamme: richard.vendamme@vito.be

CHARACTERIZATION OF POLYMER RAW MATERIALS AND DERIVED PRODUCTS

Valorization of renewable and recyclable polymers, such as lignin and waste plastics, via solubilization, depolymerization and (bio)polymer synthesis is the core of VITO’s SPOT team. To achieve a controlled and efficient process towards high-performance chemicals and modified materials, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of the structural characteristics of the initial feedstock and its derived products (e.g. depolymerization products and chemically modified polymers). A broad range of analytical techniques is utilized to allow comprehensive characterization of lignin, plastics and their derivatives. Due to the complex nature of these polymers, existing analytical methods often need to be optimized and adapted. This project focuses on analytical method development, selected depending on the ongoing project. The method of interest might range from sample preparation/wet chemistry followed by chromatography (e.g. GPC, GC), IR/UV-Vis spectroscopy and determination of physical parameters such as color and viscosity. Interpretation of results obtained from the newly implemented method will help elucidate the overall correlations between the renewable/recyclable polymer structure vs. solubilization, depolymerization efficiency and polymer synthesis/characteristics.

Requirements:  

You hold a BS in Chemistry/Chemical Engineering and would like to contribute to the creation of a more sustainable world. You are proactive, motivated and an excellent team player who enjoys working in a multidisciplinary environment. You are fluent in English eager to write reports, scientific papers and/or patents.

Contact person:

Dr. Viviana Polizzi: Viviana.polizzi@vito.be