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The unit Separation- and Conversion Technology (SCT) develops technologies for the sustainability of production processes in the (bio)chemical sector, replacement of fossil resources by renewable resources as feedstock for the chemical industry, and the treatment of waste streams into high value chemicals.

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.

VITO is co-initiator of Biorizon, an industry driven Shared Research Center, focusing on technology development for the production of functionalized bio-based aromatics for performance materials, chemicals & coatings. As the leading institute, VITO coordinates the development of lignin derived bio-aromatics by its own technology and by collaboration with different technology providers. Lignin is the main source of aromatic bio-based molecules. Various phenols derivatives with a variety of chemical structures can be obtained from lignin deconstruction combined with advanced membrane separation techniques.

Up to now, VITO has developed a strong expertise in the valorization of biomass through conversion of lignocellulose into value-added lignin fragments and bio-aromatic derivatives. Our next goal is to develop IP and demonstrate how these new building blocks could be polymerized into value-added products. Depending on the phenol substrates obtained from the lignin separation processes, different chemical modifications and polymerization pathways will be envisaged and developed, leading to (semi)aromatic polymers covering a wide range of industrial applications.

We are looking to recruit one PhD graduate for a 2 years postdoctoral position to work in our lignin-derived polymers program. The purpose of the position is to carry out technological research into producing, characterising and testing novel, high-performance polymeric materials derived from lignin. The research will involve aspects of:

•separation and purification of depolymerised lignin fractions (for instance via membrane-processes);
•chemical modifications and synthesis of lignin bio-oils and lignin model compounds (preparation of polymerizable synthons derived from lignin fragments);
•chemical characterization;
•polymer synthesis and formulation and evaluation of the materials (in collaboration with an industrial partner).

The target products are new bio-aromatic based building blocks that could potentially substitute petrochemical-based resins, adhesives, films and/or coatings.

Key accountabilities:
•Development of a detailed work plan for the project
•Develop and optimise experimental protocols for the key aspects of the project including:
◦Preparing, purifying and characterising depolymerised lignins fractions and lignin model compounds
◦Pre-polymer synthesis and characterization
◦Polymer formulation, synthesis and applications development
•Undertaking experiments outlined in the detailed work plan in a timely and efficient manner.
•Present regular progress report to VITO and its industrial partner, and externally (international conferences).
•Be lead author in the preparation of patents and scientific manuscript(s).
•Ensure compliance with VITO’s Health & Safety Policy, and take a proactive approach to ensuring that all work practices are safe.


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