PhD positions in Ion Exchange Membranes and Process for CO2 electrolysis (2024)

(ref. BAP-2024-460)
Last modified: 03/07/24

The two PhD positions are part of the Global PhD Partnership program between KU Leuven (Belgium) and Melbourne University (Australia). One Joint PhD project will be primarily based at the KU Leuven with secondment at the University of Melbourne. Vice versus, the other Joint PhD will be mainly based at Melbourne University with the secondment in Leuven. The supervisory team involves Prof. Xing Yang (KU Leuven, Department of Chemical Engineering), Prof. Ivo Vankelecom (KU Leuven, Department of Bio-Science Engineering), Dr. Chen George and Dr. Mengran (Aaron) Li from Melbourne University (Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering).

Unit website

  • Project 1(KU Leuven):Tailoring selective anion exchange membranes for CO2 conversion in electrolysis

Project description:

Despite being an attractive concept, the performance of CO2 reduction and conversion reactions via electrochemical process (e.g. electrolysis) is still facing critical challenges that prevent its practical implementation. In particular, the lack of proficient membranes in terms of alkaline stability and low ion selectivity (to hydroxyl ion) has hindered the commercial adaptation of membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) for CO2 electrolysis. The KUL project will develop a new class of anion exchange membranes tailored for MEA applications, helping to improve the process performance and energy efficiency. Firstly, anion exchange membranes will be designed with high ion exchange capacity and high tolerance to a wide range of pH and solvent conditions that simulates the harsh environment in MEA; Secondly, the AEM will be further tailored to impart high hydroxyl conductivity and selectivity against co-existing anions. With these membranes, we aim to overcome several classical trade-off relationships in AEM used in CO2 electrolysers, such as the selectivity vs. ion transport rate. Lastly, the as-developed membranes will be evaluated in the full MEA system at the University of Melbourne, to understand the correlation of the membrane characteristics and MEA performance in terms of chemical conversion and energy efficiency. The successful outcomes of this project will pave the way for the development of future generation membrane-based CO2 electrolyser, which not only serves as a promising alternative means for carbon reduction, but also a sustainable technology to convert CO2 to useful products.

Joint PhD project 1 will be primarily based at the KU Leuven with a minimum 12-month stay at the University of Melbourne.

  • Project 2 (Melbourne University): Unraveling ion transport phenomena in ion exchange membranes for CO2 conversion applications

Project description:

Electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) presents a promising pathway for transforming CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels. Recent development of electrochemical reactors, particularly the Membrane Electrode Assembly (MEA) designed for CO2 electrolysis, has demonstrated potential for scalability, attributed to its high efficiency and simple cell configuration. Anion Exchange Membranes (AEMs), a key component in MEA, play a crucial role in providing high transport rate of hydroxide ions and in rejecting other ionic species. For this technology to be economically viable in industrial scale, MEAs need to offer superior conversion efficiency and selectivity, as well as sufficient long-term stability. As current AEMs were originally designed for fuel cells and desalination applications, a better understanding of the interplay between ion permeation and CO2 reduction efficiency is required to further advance CO2 electrolysis technologies. The Melbourne PhD project will investigate anion transport across AEMs in alkaline conditions, as well as the performance of AEMs in CO2 electrolysis after long-term exposure to the complex alkaline environment. The candidate will also conduct multiphysics modeling of this electrochemical process at KU Leuven, to gain new insights on the influence of the micro-environments on ion transport behavior. This project will enhance our understanding of the stability of AEMs and their ion transport mechanisms in CO2 electrolysis processes, paving the way for future design of more robust ion exchange membranes tailored for CO2 conversion applications.

Joint PhD project 2 will be primarily based at the University of Melbourne with a minimum 12-month stay at KU Leuven.

Supervision team:

KU Leuven:
Principal Supervisor:Prof Xing Yang

Co-supervisor: Prof Ivo Vankelecom

The University of Melbourne:
Principal Supervisor: Dr George Chen
Co-supervisor: Dr Mengran (Aaron) Li


If you are highly motivated researchers in the areas of Chemical Engineering with passion in separation technology for sustainability, you are strongly encouraged to enquire and apply.

Profile required:

  • Requirement: Master's degree in Chemical Engineeringor in relevant disciplines,withfirst class honour / high distinction.
  • Strong interest and solid knowledge in the relevant fields as described.
  • Fluent English (written and verbal communication) for scientific interactions required (language requirements by the respective host university).
  • Self-motivated, passionate and great interpersonal skills.
  • With international mobility, and willingness to work at interdisciplinary boundaries and in international teams.

Application Documents:

Interested candidates please send through your academic transcripts during Bachelor and Master studies. A comprehensive resume including your full list of publications and project experiences, aresearch statement outlining your main research interest,evidence of language proficiency if applicable, and names of three referees.


One successful candidate will be offered a PhD fellowship at KU Leuven and Melbourne University, respectively, to become part of our international teams with global research linksto work towards a PhD. Funding can be provided for a period of 4 years. The tuition fee for scholarship holders will be waived.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Xing Yang, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than August 30, 2024 via the online application tool

KU Leuven strives for an inclusive, respectful and socially safe environment. We embrace diversity among individuals and groups as an asset. Open dialogue and differences in perspective are essential for an ambitious research and educational environment. In our commitment to equal opportunity, we recognize the consequences of historical inequalities. We do not accept any form of discrimination based on, but not limited to, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ethnic or national background, skin colour, religious and philosophical diversity, neurodivergence, employment disability, health, or socioeconomic status. For questions about accessibility or support offered, we are happy to assist you at this email address.

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PhD positions in Ion Exchange Membranes and Process for CO2 electrolysis (2024)
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