Doctoral scholarship holder in the field of microbial cleantech for urine treatment in Space.

Department : Department of Bioengineering
Regime : Full-time

The Department of Bioscience Engineering in the Faculty of Science is looking for a full-time (100%).

Doctoral scholarship holder in the field of microbial cleantech for urine treatment in Space.

Within the Faculty of Science, the University created the Department of Bioscience Engineering in 2006, recognizing a strong societal demand for research and education on applied biological sciences such as cleantech and environmental technology. This department hosts the Research Group of Sustainable Energy, Air and Water Technology, founded in 2009, where prof. Siegfried Vlaeminck launched the Microbial Cleantech Team for a sustainable water cycle and food production chain in 2015. The team’s mission is to develop clean biotechnological solutions and to assess the ecological and economic sustainability of novel treatment and production pipelines. Key domains include technology for nitrogen cycling, nitrification, anammox, single-cell protein (microbial protein), nutrient recovery, and quantitative sustainability assessments (life cycle assessment, material flow analysis and techno–economic assessment). With a sustainable circular and bio-based economy as goal, the team also focusses on regenerative life support systems like MELiSSA, a necessity for long-term human space missions. The team is a core member of the Microbial Systems Technology centre of excellence, the Enviromics valorization consortium, the Blue_App innovation hub for sustainable chemistry and CAPTURE (centre for advanced process technology for urban resource recovery). The team is dynamic, international and embraces diversity.

Nitrogenisor is a project of the European Space Agency, and aims to develop a membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) based on partial nitritation/anammox (PN/A) to produce N2 from urine. Long-duration human spaceflight necessitates a pressurized artificial atmosphere rich in nitrogen gas. At present day, losses of gas are compensated by the rather impractical supply of N2 from Earth. On Earth, N2 is microbially regenerated with bacteria performing denitrification or anammox, for instance in wastewater treatment plants. The goal is to extrapolate PN/A technology to space applications, as energy- and resource-efficient process, with gravity-independent aeration. The PhD candidate will be supervised by prof. Siegfried Vlaeminck and dr. Marc Spiller (University of Antwerp), and by prof. Ramon Ganigué (Ghent University, Center for Microbial Ecology and Technology). Furthermore, prof. Kai Udert from Eawag, the Swiss water research center, is a key project partner.


  • You work actively on the preparation and defence of a PhD thesis in the field of Bioscience Engineering, on a membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) based on partial nitritation/anammox (PN/A) to produce N2 from urine.
  • You publish scientific articles related to the research project.
  • You present your results at scientific fora in Belgium and abroad.
  • You collaborate with a part-time postdoc on the Nitrogenisor project.
  • You carry out a limited number of teaching and research support tasks for the Department of Bioscience Engineering.


  • You hold a Master degree in bioscience engineering, environmental engineering, (bio)chemical engineering, industrial biotechnology or equivalent applied sciences, or you will have obtained it by the time you start working.
  • You can demonstrate excellent study results.
  • Laboratory experience with bioreactors and nitrification/anammox is a plus.
  • You are passionate about the research field, and are highly motivated to obtain a PhD degree in it.
  • Your research qualities are in line with the faculty and university research policies.
  • You are quality-oriented and conscientious.
  • You manage your time well, and meet deadlines with an outcome-focused and problem-solving mentality. You are proactive and independent in your work work.
  • You have outstanding oral and written communication skills in English, and communicate clearly and honestly.
  • You have excellent social skills to collaborate in a constructive and respectful manner with colleagues and students.
  • You are willing to travel internationally for project meetings, conferences, workshops and/or research stays.

What we offer

  • We offer a doctoral scholarship for a period of two years. Following a positive evaluation and subject to funding, the scholarship can be renewed for another two years.
  • The planned start date is 1 September 2020 or as soon as possible after that date.
  • Your monthly scholarship amount is calculated according to the scholarship amounts for doctoral scholarship holders on the pay scales for contract research staff (Dutch: Bijzonder Academisch Personeel, BAP).
  • You will do most of your work at Campus Groenenborg in a dynamic, stimulating and green working environment.
  • The opportunity to tutor BSc and MSc students working on your topic.
  • The opportunity to build a national and international network of industrial and scientific players.
  • The opportunity to develop new personal competences through professional training moments, courses and workshops.
  • Find out more about working at the University of Antwerp.
  • A unique chance to make a difference, and personally contribute to the development of sustainable biotechnological answers to urgent societal challenges.

 Want to apply?

  • You can apply for this vacancy through the University of Antwerp’s online job application platform until 12 July 2020. Click here, complete the online application form and be sure to include the following attachments: a motivation letter and your CV.
  • The selection committee will review all of the applications as soon as possible after the application deadline. As soon as a decision has been made, we will inform you about the next steps in the selection procedure. Please make a note of the following date: 27 July 2020 (interview).
  • If you have any questions about the online application form, please check the frequently asked questions or send an email to jobs@uantwerpen.be. If you have any questions about the job itself, please contact prof. Siegfried Vlaeminck (siegfried.vlaeminck@uantwerpen.be).

Regenerative Life Support Systems for Long Term Space Missions

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