PhD openings

Open positions in the doctoral program at the University of Bologna

Production of biochar-based organic fertilizers and amendments to improve carbon storage and soil quality 


Information on the PhD programme can be found here under "Call for applications" and "PhD Programme Table"


Project overview 

The project aims to develop, manufacture, and test sustainable second-generation carbons (2G-C) that are highly efficient at capturing ammonium from wastewater streams. The materials and processes require external sources of phosphorus to stoichiometrically balance nitrogen. The resulting materials will be designed and tested to comply with the Fertiliser Product Regulation (FPR) 2019/1009. The project will develop and validate a TRL 3-4 system consisting of equipment integrated with existing industrial processes and production lines, new materials, and circular economy routes to produce functional carbons and capture, concentrate, and transport ammonia from various sources. The production processes will be designed so that they are not dependent on fossil components and the products will increase soil organic carbon stocks and make the overall process CO2-negative.

The Project in detail 

1 - Thermo-chemical conversion of biomass and dolomite into [material 1] and energy co-production.

Using the synergistic effect of the carbonisation of two residual biomass feedstock and the selective calcination of a carbonate mineral rich in magnesium a carbon-carbonaceous material will be generated [material 1]. 

2 - Wastewater application, nitrogen removal and carbonaceous struvite deposition to generate [material 2 

[material 1] acts as a seed to promote struvite (NH4MgPO4 6(H2O) and is obtained from NH3-rich wastewater. The system is fed with material at rates to fit the stoichiometric quantities. Bone meal will be used as non-critical phosphorous source, due to its availability, low cost and lack of contaminants like chlorides, Na, K, etc.  That fosters P recovery from secondary sources. After an appropriate contact time necessary for the growth of struvite crystals, the struvite can be separated from the liquid medium through a filter press to obtain  [material 2]. This will be used as such in agronomic tests.  

3 - [material 2] thermolysis and regeneration 

After drying [material 2] will be heated at relatively low T. NH3 and CO2 are liberated and collected for further use in urea production ([urea based material] in the following). In the [urea based material] production reactor, NH3 from thermal regeneration and CO extracted from activity #1 will be fed in a reactor and sulphur added as a catalyser. The solution of [urea based material], sulphur and polysulphides obtained at the end of the process will be concentrated and subsequently dried. 

The PhD candidate will work in a team including experts in agronomy, chemistry, environmental science, environmental management and together with industrial stakeholders. They must propose a project elaborating at least one or more topics among (A-D) and activity E as indicated below: 

Topic A

With respect to Activity 1, candidates should help achieve the optimal carbonation processes in terms of feedstock properties, carbon-carbonate ratio, and process conditions. One of the goals of the PhD project is to investigate the upscaling of such a technology.

Topic B

In relation to Activity 2, candidates are expected to participate in the design, planning, execution, control and monitoring of process conditions, technical solutions, material preparation, etc. One of the objectives of the PhD project is to investigate and develop original solutions for the use of [Material 1] in industrial systems for cost-efficient and sustainable recovery of NH3-N.

Topic C

In relation to Activity 3, candidates should participate in the design, planning, execution, control and monitoring of process conditions, technical solutions, material preparation, etc. One of the objectives of the Ph.D project is to study and develop original solutions for the use of [material 2] in industrial applications and systems that promote the circular economy.

Topic D

In relation to activities 1-3, candidates should consider how to carry out sustainability and systems analysis, including hybrid life cycle assessment, techno-economic considerations, planning and promoting supply chains to enable the production and distribution of materials 1, 2, 3

 Topic E 

In relation to activities 1-3, candidates must propose approaches to co-creation and outreach activities to underpin their project

Group description and general research lines 

A group of 20 (physics, pedology, microbiology, chemistry, environmental science, environmental management) generating around 0,7M€/year turnover and dealing with soil carbon cycle, soil health, biomass treatment, (bio)remediation, regeneration, reuse and recycling of production waste for the development of new products. Recent activities include: study and modelling of carbon sequestration capacity through the use of vegetable chars (biochar) for carbon farming uses and carbon removal, P and N recovery, Fertiliser Product Regulation CMC 3,4,5,14, PFC 1,3,7 development, generation and application of second generation material-based carbons (also in combination with microbes), industrial microbiomes, study of methods for the mapping of residual biomass and waste, long-term experiments for the agronomic application of biochar and other carbon based substrates, soil quality indicators in a life cycle perspective. The research group operates  in the Ravenna Campus at the Fraunhofer Innovation Platform for Waste and Energy at UniBO.

Flag project: RERCARB0N – Recovering and Regenerating technologies and materials towards net zero CO2 emissions