PhD Studentship - Optimisation of the Aqueous Recovery of Oil from Rapeseed

University of Nottingham - Mathematical Sciences

Location: University Park
Supervisors: Prof Jonathan Wattis (Mathematical Sciences), Dr Etienne Farcot (Mathematical Sciences), Dr David Gray (Biosciences), Dr Vincenzo di Bari (Biosciences)

Oilseed rape is the main oilseed crop grown in the UK and Europe. In seeds the oil is stored within micron-sized organelles called oleosomes or oil bodies (OB). The approach currently used to produce edible oil relies on energy intensive processes in which organic solvents are employed. The aqueous recovery of OBs from oilseed rape relies on the use of water as solvent and consists of five main steps (Soaking, Grinding, Filtration, Centrifugation & Washing). The final product is a natural, novel, label friendly oil-in-water emulsion.

Although this innovative approach to seed processing (pioneered in Food Sciences, Nottingham) has gained increasing attention from industry in recent years, its upgrade to an industrial level has been constrained by the relatively low oil yield (approx. 20g / 100g of seeds) and by the limited understanding of the role key processing steps play on OB recovery. These steps are the soaking, grinding, and centrifugation.

Experimental work at Food Sciences has allowed partial optimisation of those steps. The minimum soaking time required to achieve optimum seed softening was shown to be 16 hours and optimal grinding time 90 seconds, however, a mechanistic understanding of these process is lacking.

To better understand these processes and provide rational ways to optimize them, we will develop mathematical models of the three key steps mentioned above: (1) the soaking pre-treatment, using models of water diffusion at the scale of single seeds. Here, as well as the differing diffusivities and absorbancies of the hard shell and internal seed tissue complicate the process of water uptake. In the grinding process (2), we propose to model the evolving size distribution of the fragments; and with centrifugation (4), we propose to model the effectiveness of adding solute to the water to increase the density difference between the oil and the solvent/solute. The PhD student will have the possibility to carry out some specific experimental work which will help in the design of a model to optimise water and energy usage and reduce processing time.

For more information, including details of other available research projects, please visit:

Summary: The scholarships are for four years and will cover PhD tuition fees for UK/EU students, plus a tax-free stipend of £14,553 per annum (2017/18 rate). While the scholarships may be held by students of all nationalities, the Leverhulme Trust has a particular interest in supporting UK or EU students. International students would be expected to cover the difference between international and UK/EU tuition fees (currently approximately £9,500 per annum).

Eligibility: Appropriately motivated students should have, or expect to obtain, a first-class or good 2:1 honours degree and/or a distinction or high merit at MSc level in Mathematics or a subject with a strong mathematical component (e.g. physics, engineering, computer science). 

Studentships are available from September 2018 and will remain open until filled, early application is encouraged. 

For any enquiries please email: 

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Midlands of England