a postdoc position titled: Sustainable smart packaging for the preservation of plant-based foods

Updated: 2 months ago
Job Type: FullTime
Deadline: 31 Oct 2020

Empa - the place where innovation starts

Empa is the research institute for materials science and technology of the ETH Domain and conducts cutting-edge research for the benefit of industry and the well-being of society.

Empa’s Laboratory of Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles is offering

Our laboratory. Empa’s Laboratory of Biomimetic Membranes and Textilesaims to develop materials and systems for the protection of the human body and its health. The products developed in collaboration with industry are used in the fields of occupational safety, sport, medical applications and health-tech.

Background.Up to 25% of Europe's fresh fruit and vegetables are lost on the way from farm to consumer. Minimizing this postharvest loss is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from supply chains of fresh horticultural produce and avoid waste of natural resources embedded in these products. The key strategy to preserve fresh produce and extend its shelf life is to cool down the food after harvest and to maintain the cold chain during transport and storage, until the point it is consumed. The postharvest life of fresh fruit and vegetables is also extended by using polymer packaging. Despite its protective function, such packaging has an ecological impact and may re-enter the environment partly as microplastics. As such, there is an increasing aversion in consumers towards plastic packaging.

Objective. In this project, we aim to reduce the environmental impacts of the fresh-produce supply chain by means of sustainable, smart packaging solutions. Here we target solutions that simultaneously minimize postharvest food waste and the use of plastic packaging. We use digital food twins to propose an individualized, eco-friendly packaging strategy and material. We focus on plant-based foods for Switzerland that are currently sold packaged.

Your tasks

  • Develop a computational multiphysics model – a digital twin – for two plant based foods. This includes hygrothermal transport in the food during cooling, convective exchange with the environment, biochemical quality attribute evolution within the products and thermally-driven damage.

  • Evaluate food-quality attribute evolution throughout the cold chain and link this to the environmental impact.

  • Use the simulation-based approach to optimize plant-based food supply chains to simultaneously reduce packaging and food loss, minimizing the environmental impact.

  • Dissemination of your work in scientific publications and educational activities.

  • Project management, leadership, acquisition and administration.

  • Supervision of undergraduate students.

  • Support and further develop the research activities on sustainable smart packaging in the group.

Your profile

  • Completed PhD degree in agricultural engineering, process engineering, food technology, or materials science and a proven academic track record.

  • Proven experience in continuum modeling (finite element modelling, computational fluid dynamics).

  • Knowledge of heat and mass transport processes in porous materials and process optimization.

  • Experience in food quality measurements (firmness, micronutrients, …), food process experiments or thermal measurements (temperature, infrared, anemometry) is considered an advantage.

  • Knowledge of life-cycle assessment is beneficial.

  • Excellent communication skills and fluency in English (both written and oral) are mandatory.

Administration. A project duration of 18 months is envisaged to carry out the above research tasks in the form of a postdoctoral project. An extension can be discussed in the course of the project. Empa supports the project under the supervision of Thijs Defraeye. The candidate will perform his research at Empa in St. Gallen. The desired starting date is 1st of March 2021 or upon mutual agreement.

For further information about the position please contact Thijs Defraeye, thijs.defraeye@empa.ch and visit our websites https://www.empa.ch/web/simbiosys and https://www.empa.ch/web/s401 and see our Empa-Video

We look forward to receiving your online application including a letter of motivation, CV including publications and presentations, diplomas with transcripts and contact details of two referees. Please upload the requested documents through our webpage. Applications via email will not be considered.

Empa, Esther Zürcher, Human Resources, Lerchenfeldstrasse 5, 9014 St. Gallen, Switzerland.


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