The PhD researcher will be part of the Innovative Design for Energy Applications Lab ("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 free-shape and topology optimization 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 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 renewable-based heating networks 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 work in the context of a project in which the IDEAL group collaborates with other KU Leuven research groups with expertise on heat pumps and on additive manufacturing to drastically reduce the refrigerant charge in heat pumps. This reduction is crucial in the transition towards refrigerants with lower global warming potential, since the introduction of several candidate refrigerants is hampered by their flammability that imposes a maximal refrigerant charge on the heat pump. 

The PhD student will be responsible for the development of 3D topology optimization techniques to minimize the amount of refrigerant in the manifolds of the evaporator and condenser, while robustly achieving high performance of the heat pump in different operational modes. To do so, he/she will strongly collaborate with 2 other PhD students that focus on the modelling and design of the heat pump at the system level on the one hand, and the optimal design of the heat exchanger core on the other. In addition, the PhD student is responsible for conducting a measurement campaign on the optimized manifold designs to validate their performance.

Where topology optimization has revolutionized solid mechanics design optimization over the last decades and is gaining traction in flow optimization over recent years, the use of these techniques in heat pump design is an exciting new application. As a former member of and close collaborator with KU Leuven's Thermal Fluid Engineering (TFE) team, prof. Blommaert's IDEAL research group builds on the wide expertise that the TFE group has in flow and heat transfer modelling, simulation, and optimization. Moreover, with the state-of-the-art large-scale finite-element simulation and optimization software for flow and heat transfer that has jointly been developed (on the basis of the FEniCS software package), the way is paved to innovative compact evaporators and condenser designs for heat pumps.


You are a highly motivated, enthusiastic and communicative researcher, and you are strongly interested in the development of numerical simulation and optimization methods for heat exchangers. 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 outstanding study results,
  • A background in related fields such as the numerical solution of (systems) of partial differential equations.
  • The qualities to carry out independent research, demonstrated e.g., by the grades obtained on your MSc 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 python and C++, 
  • Numerical optimization,
  • Parallel computing,
  • Flow solvers,
  • Heat pump 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 successful candidate is expected to start as early as possible, but no later than October 1st 2023 (upon agreement with Prof. Blommaert)