phd project

Functionalizing nanostructured materials for selective ion recovery

The ability to address charged species in a selective way is highly relevant for various societal challenges, such as making processes in agri-/horticultural and industrial circular, zero-emission, and energy transition. In the field of water treatment, sodium over potassium selectivity is highly relevant in recycling irrigation water, nitrate/phosphate over chloride selectivity for the efficient reuse of high-value nutrients, and metal ion selectivity is essential to secure the availability – and reuse – of critical raw materials (e.g. lithium, cobalt, nickel) that play an important role in renewable energy technologies.

Materials science and engineering are at the heart of innovations in these fields. Intercalation materials that exhibit promising properties for energy storage can also desalinate water efficiently via electro‐driven processes. This project aims to add selectivity to such separation processes by fine‐tuning their chemistry and understanding the underlying fundamental mechanisms.

Research challenges
One of the main challenges is to find the required structure‐property relationships of advanced nanoporous material to induce ion selectivity. This will be addressed by controlling their properties in terms of chemical composition, including functional moieties, particle size, interlayer spacing, pore size and shape, and porosity. Physical and quantum‐chemical modelling will aid ion transport and ion selectivity, respectively. Another main challenge is to combine high selectivity with reversibility, which will be addressed by making use of electrochemical ion separation technologies. Also the stability, energy efficiency and upscaling of the separation process with the advanced, nanoporous 2D will also be addressed.

Your assignment
You will explore selected materials for their use in electrochemical ion separation technologies, with a large focus on capacitive and faradaic deionisation (CDI and FDI). Electrodes will be made and characterized with various techniques in terms of their morphology, chemical composition, crystallinity and redox properties. Next, you will study their separation performance when applied in CDI/FDI. This includes the optimizaton of operation parameters such as applied current, cell voltage, ion concentration and pH. Membranes will be used to further enhance ion selectivity. Key research questions are: what is the electrochemical stability of the new intercalation electrodes? Which ions can be targeted with intercalation electrodes containing new building blocks? Can we understand the underlying mechanisms?

Your profile
We are looking for a candidate with an MSc in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science, Environmental Technology or related discipline. Experience with the electrochemical characterization of materials is required. Experience with water treatment processes and/or separation technologies are an asset.

Keywords: electrochemistry, materials chemistry, energy storage, ion separation, water treatment.

Supervisory team: Prof. Dr. Ir. Louis de Smet (Wageningen University), Ragne Pärnamäe (Wetsus)

Project partners: Desalination & Concentrates theme; this project is part of a larger NWO Vici program “Mind_Gap” granted to Louis de Smet ( and will include the appointment of additional PhD students and postdocs who will work in the group of Advanced Interfaces & Materials at Wageningen University.

Only applications that are complete, in English, and submitted via the application webpage before the deadline will be considered eligible.

Guidelines for applicants:

The call is closed. Please be informed that we no longer accept applications for the current call. We thank you for your interest.