PhD position: Integrating a Circular Carbon Economy into the Energy Transition

Updated: about 2 months ago
Job Type: Permanent

100%, Zurich, fixed-term

The Energy and Process Systems Engineering (EPSE) Group at ETH Zürich is looking for a doctoral student working on the design of circular pathways for chemicals and polymers. The position is integrated into the reFuel.ch project that aims at sustainable fuels and platform chemicals as part of the SWEET programme on “SWiss Energy research for the Energy Transition” of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).

The research of the EPSE group at ETH Zürich, headed by Prof. Dr. André Bardow, focuses on sustainability in energy and chemical process systems. We develop methods to advance sustainable energy and chemical process systems from the molecular to the systems scale. In our work, we combine computer-aided molecular and process design to optimize molecules and processes simultaneously. To holistically evaluate the environmental impacts of chemicals and energy systems, we develop predictive methods for Life Cycle Assessment. Our technological focus currently lies in Power-to-X & sector coupling, sustainable carbon feedstock, and carbon capture, utilization & storage.


Project background

In the 21st century, the imperative to combat climate change has intensified efforts to mitigate CO2 emissions and diminish reliance on fossil fuels. A primary contributor to global fossil fuel consumption is the production of chemicals and plastics. To mitigate their impacts, alternative carbon sources are increasingly explored for chemicals and plastics production, such as CO2 captured from stacks or air, biomass, and the recycling of chemicals and plastics.

This project is dedicated to addressing the challenges associated with integrating alternative carbon sources in the future chemical and plastic industry – and aligning this carbon transition with the more general energy transition.

For this purpose, the project explores optimal pathways toward a renewable carbon economy. Thereby, we will strategically leverage the potential of innovative technologies developed by our project partners. The technologies will be embedded into the overall carbon transition, spanning from fuels and platform chemicals such as methanol to specific high-performance materials such as polyurethanes.

For this purpose, we will develop and explore models of pioneering value chains based on renewable carbon sources. Life-cycle assessment (LCA) of novel technologies will be used to quantify their environmental footprint in comparison to conventional processes. Integrating these novel value chains into energy systems models will allow us to identify viable pathways, potential bottlenecks, and synergies between the carbon and the energy transition.


Job description

This PhD position offers a comprehensive exploration of a sustainable carbon economy. For this purpose, you will contribute to early-stage technology development for chemicals and plastics, encompassing modeling of alternative carbon sources, techno-economic assessments, and life cycle assessments. You will contribute to advancing an in-house optimization model covering the production of key chemicals and plastics. A specific focus will be on the assessment and optimization of converting plastic waste to high-value chemicals and integrating such novel carbon routes into the overall energy transition. This multifaceted role offers a unique opportunity to deepen your understanding of the energy and carbon transition, engage in environmental assessments and optimization, and collaborate with industry and academia partners for successful project outcomes.

We offer you a full-time position for the duration of your doctoral studies, starting upon agreement with the earliest starting of 1 March 2024. You will work in an interdisciplinary team of researchers with in-depth experience in process design, energy system optimization, and life cycle assessment. As an integral partof your work, you will publish your results in peer-reviewed journals and present them at international conferences.


Your profile

We are looking for a proactive and motivated candidate who meets the requirements for a doctoral program at ETH Zurich and has a Master's or diploma degree in chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, process engineering, or energy science & technology from a recognized university. Ideally, you already have experience in life cycle assessment and programming. You are highly motivated to learn and apply modern simulation and optimization techniques and work in a dynamic environment with other doctoral students and postdocs. The ability to work independently and excellent communication skills in English (both written and spoken) complete your profile.


Your workplace

Your workplace

We offer

ETH Zurich is a family-friendly employer with excellent working conditions. You can look forward to an exciting working environment, cultural diversity and attractive offers and benefits.

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Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • Curriculum Vitae, max. 2 pages
  • Motivational Letter, max. 2 pages
  • Transcript of records
  • Contact details of 2 referees

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal before 10 January 2024. We will not consider applications sent via email or postal services. We will get in touch with you after 2-3 weeks following the submission deadline.

For further information about the Energy and Process Systems Engineering (EPSE) Group, please visit our website, www.epse.ethz.ch . Questions regarding the position should be directed to Dr. Eleonora Bargiacchi, [email protected]  (no applications).


About ETH Zürich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.



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