The PhD researcher will be part of a Marie-Sklodowska Curie Doctoral Network DENSE (Dependable smart energy systems).

Project objectives

This PhD project focuses on the operational optimization of district heating and cooling (DHC) system performance through energy flexibility management. DHC systems have considerable opportunities for integration of renewable heat sources and recycling of excess heat from industry. Furthermore, these systems have a lot of affordable energy flexibility potential due to the presence of thermal energy storage in buffer tanks, piping and connected buildings. This energy flexibility can also be offered to connected electricity networks to also support their operation.
Wide-scale real-time optimization of DHC system operation faces several technical challenges:

  1. The thermal-hydraulic nature of DHC systems leads inherently to non-linear mathematical models and non-convex optimization problems. This makes the stability and reliability of numerical solvers far from trivial.
  2. The numerical complexity of control algorithms scales with the number of assets that needs to be controlled, as well as with the prediction horizon. Control of large-scale DHC systems incorporating long-term thermal storage technologies is therefore not feasible with current methods.
  3. Replication of smart control approaches from pilots to commercial applications needs streamlined approaches for DHC system characterization. This is complicated by the diversity of thermal network configurations and hydronic installations, and the frequent lack of necessary information and/or sensor data.

VITO is taking a leading role in the development of smart energy systems control methods. The DC will join the Thermal Energy Systems team at VITO and work in close collaboration with several R&D colleagues active in DHC systems and management of energy flexibility.

Required skills

You are a highly motivated, enthusiastic and communicative researcher, and you are strongly interested in the development of models and optimization procedures for the design of next-generation district heating networks. Moreover, you are a team player that enjoys collaborating with people within the research group, the project, and beyond, and have:

  • A M.Sc. degree in engineering, preferably with a focus on control engineering, energy engineering, optimization methods - alternatively you have a comparable qualification.
  • Sound knowledge of control engineering and/or thermal energy technology and/or optimization methods. 
  • Experience in Python or at least one relevant programming language (preferably C++, Matlab or Julia), and relevant packages for numerical solvers/data analysis/optimization.
  • Interest in applied research work in the fields of control and analysis of sustainable and intelligent energy systems.
  • Ability to work scientifically, independence, take initiative, flexibility, teamwork and communication skills.
  • Creative, problem-solving, results-driven and can meet quality output with stringent deadlines.
  • Eager to disseminate your research results by scientific publication or communications at conferences.
  • Desire for professional and personal development.
  • Very good knowledge of English, both oral and written. Dutch proficiency is a plus.
  • Moreover, candidates have to comply with the mobility rule for doctoral networks: they must not have resided or carried out their main activity in Belgium for more than 12 months in the 36 months immediately before their recruitment date.


DC#9 will be hosted at VITO (Belgium) and will be enrolled in the PhD school of Nantes University (ECN) (France).

  • A 3-year doctoral scholarship within an international Marie Curie doctoral network.
  • The opportunity for a research stay abroad with one of the partners within the doctoral network.
  • A competitive salary and additional benefits
  • The opportunity to be active in an exciting and international research environment, engage in research collaborations and participate at international conferences.

More details and how to apply: Central recruitment page of the doctoral network
Application deadline: 31/03/2024 (5pm CET)

Applicants should apply via mail to the central recruitment address of the Marie-Sklodowska Curie Doctoral Network DENSE at  following *strictly* the instructions in the "guide for applicants" at the central recruitment page

Do NOT directly apply in the VITO application system. The applications there will not be monitored.