PhD Position: Design of innovative electrodes to optimise the interactions between microorganisms and electrodes in bioelectrochemical systems (LGC Toulouse, France)

Starting date: 1st October 2024
Contract duration : 3 years
Funding : INP Toulouse (B-Best PEPR)
Doctoral school : Mécanique, énergétique, génie civil, procédés (MEGEP)

Keywords : bioelectrochemical systems, microorganisms, biofilms, electrochemistry, bioeconomy

This thesis project is part of the B-BEST priority research programme and equipment (PEPR), which is an integral part of France’s “bio-based products, industrial biotechnologies – sustainable fuels” acceleration strategy. The PEPR is a funding instrument dedicated to research to “prepare the biomass conversion technologies of tomorrow” at low technology readiness levels (TRL) ranging from 1 to 4. The aim of this strategy is to focus on the key challenges related to the conversion of biomass into bio-based products for a sustainable transition to the bioeconomy and circular economy. In this context, bioelectrochemical systems (BES) are emerging, low TRL technologies that can be used to recover “waste” biomass (wastewater, bio-waste, agro-industrial waste, etc.). BES are based on the ability of microorganisms naturally present in the environment to oxidise biomass on the surface of conductive materials (electrodes) by developing electroactive biofilms, thereby generating an electric current (flow of electrons). This electric current can then be used at the cathode to produce value-added compounds such as hydrogen, methane or ‘platform’ molecules for the chemical industry. However, the industrialisation of BES is still limited by a number of bottlenecks, in particular the poor performance of these electroactive biofilm/electrode assemblies known as “bioanodes”.

The aim of this thesis is to develop novel three-dimensional (3D) electrode architectures that will significantly increase the performance (electrical current and stability) of bioanodes continuously treating biomass (“waste”). The main challenge will be to define one or more electrode designs that favour long-term interactions with the electroactive biofilms while allowing homogeneous, non-obstructive distribution of the waste flow to be treated. The thesis will combine an experimental approach that will be the core of the project, with a complementary theoretical approach involving multi-scale numerical simulation of BES. On the experimental side, the PhD candidate will first be responsible for validating the performance of these new 3D electrode architectures, which will be designed using materials with capacitive properties or innovative materials. During the thesis, he/she will also evaluate the growth and electrochemical performance of microbial biofilms under the influence of an external electric field. This work will be carried out on the scale of a BES continuously treating real ‘waste’ biomass, pre-treated and supplied by the project partners. Numerical simulation will be used to design these 3D electrodes with optimised architectures, which will be produced by additive manufacturing (3D printing).

The thesis will be carried out at the Chemical Engineering Laboratory (LGC, ENSIACET site) in the biofilm engineering team of the Bioprocesses and Microbial Systems department (BioSyM). The biofilm engineering team is specialised in fundamental and applied research on BES for the environment for nearly 20 years and will provide all the analytical and experimental resources needed to carry out the project.

Profile: Masters level or equivalent in chemical/process/environmental engineering or materials with a strong interest for electrochemistry and/or biotechnologies. Essential qualities: curiosity, autonomy, willingness to learn and to take risks, hard-working.

Application: To apply for this position, please send a cover letter along with a detailed CV to the contacts below before April 12th 2024

Institution contact information

Laboratoire de Génie Chimique, Toulouse, France

Benjamin Erable, Research Director, CNRS, +33 5 34 32 36 23

Jean-Marie Fontmorin, Researcher, CNRS, +33 5 34 32 37 29

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