The PhD researcher will be part of the Innovative Design for Energy Applications Lab (or in short “IDEAL”) of Prof. Maarten Blommaert. The research group is embedded in the Mechanical Engineering Department of KU Leuven, Europe’s most innovative university [Reuters], member of the EnergyVille research collaboration for sustainable energy research, and located at Geel campus. Building on prof. Blommaert’s expertise on numerical optimization of flow and heat transfer, IDEAL focuses on the optimal design of (thermal) energy components and systems through generative design techniques. As such, the group aims at increasing energy-efficiency, reducing carbon emissions, and realizing cost savings.

On the energy component level, the performance is robustly maximized through the development, implementation, and validation of model-based shape and topology optimization techniques that maximally exploit the degrees of freedom offered by present-day manufacturing processes. Applications include the design of highly effective heat exchangers and the design of heat-resistant heat sinks for nuclear fusion reactors. At energy system level, the group aims at navigating the ever more complex design challenges of multi-carrier energy systems with nonlinear transport models and optimization techniques. Its close research collaborations with other academic research groups in heat and fluid engineering, computational techniques, material sciences, and manufacturing processes on the one hand, and valorization partners in EnergyVille and industry on the other, creates a unique environment where fundamental research findings pave the way to design innovation in energy applications.
The research group is presently looking for a motivated PhD researcher to develop techniques for the optimal design of next-generation heat networks that leverage the flexible integration of renewables and prosumers. 

Heat networks are considered one of the core technologies to enable renewable space heating, and to overcome the current reliance on gas and oil. Using thermal storage, they offer a cost-effective way to provide flexibility for electrical grids that become more and more subject to the intermittency of renewables like wind and PV. In addition, next-generation heat networks incorporate high shares of clean intermittent heat sources or heat deposited on the network by prosumers. To realize the full potential of such networks, it is essential that the design of storage is carefully considered as an integral part of the network design. This leads to a complicated design problem, in which uncertainties in electricity prices, consumer contracting situations, or building renovations could significantly impact the expected profitability of the heat network design.

To fundamentally tackle the design problem, the PhD student starts from the new optimal design approach that was recently developed by prof. Blommaert and his colleagues within EnergyVille, which is the first to realize physics-based optimal design of network lay-outs for heat networks of practical size. Through these strong collaborations the IDEAL group has within EnergyVille, the PhD research keeps a close link to the application in district heating development projects in Belgium.


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 master’s degree in Engineering with a background in mechanical engineering, computer science, or related field, from a reputable institute, with at least distinction,
  • A background in related fields such as the numerical solution of nonlinear systems,
  • The qualities to carry out independent research, demonstrated e.g., by the grades obtained on your M. Sc. thesis,
  • An excellent command of the English language, both in spoken and written form,
  • A critical mindset.
Additional research/educational experience in any of the following topics is considered a strong advantage:

  • Coding in languages such as MATLAB and Python, 
  • Numerical optimization,
  • District heating and cooling,
  • Heat transfer modelling.

  • A doctoral scholarship of four years and, if successful, a PhD in Engineering Technology
  • A competitive salary and additional benefits such as health insurance, access to university sports facilities, etc.
  • The opportunity to be active in an exciting and international research environment, engage in research collaborations and participate at international conferences
  • A full-time employment for four years, with an intermediate evaluation after one year
  • An excellent doctoral training at the Arenberg Doctoral School in an international environment at a top European university. This will allow you to gain the skills required to successfully complete your PhD, as well as develop yourself as an independent researcher. Moreover, opportunities are provided to acquire deeper knowledge in subjects related to the topic by participating in trainings, summer schools, or lecture series in- and outside of KU Leuven
  • A flexible working culture with opportunity to up to 40% remote working
The starting date is to be agreed upon with Prof. Blommaert.




Full time