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.
Compact heat exchangers become more and more crucial to meet future demands for cost-effective and energy-efficient energy systems in a wide range of applications, including e.g. light-weight mobile systems and heat pumps with environmentally-friendly, yet often flammable or toxic, refrigerants.
The research group is presently looking for 2 motivated PhD researchers to work in the context of an interdisciplinary project that brings together research groups from KU Leuven and VITO to drastically improve the overall energy efficiency and material use for such compact heat exchangers, using emerging methods and methodologies in automated design, additive manufacturing (AM), and experimental techniques. 

In this project, one PhD student is responsible for the development of efficient 3D shape optimization of the fins in heat exchanger fin arrays, and by extension, the configuration of the heat exchanger core as a whole, while accounting for constraints imposed by the AM process and robust operation. A second PhD student will robustly optimize first-of-a-kind heat exchanger designs for selected use-cases in collaboration with companies involved in the project and develop experimental verifications of the performance gains. To do so, the PhD students will strongly collaborate with KU Leuven’s renowned Additive Manufacturing research group and the other project partners.

While shape optimization based on computational fluid dynamics simulations has revolutionized the design of aerodynamic surfaces and channel surfaces over the last three decades, the development of these techniques for finned heat transfer devices is still an exciting and emerging research domain. 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 heat transfer modelling, simulation, and optimization. This collaboration developed a state-of-the-art finite-element simulation and optimization software for large-scale flow and heat transfer simulations on the basis of the FEniCS software package, that paves the way to finally realize 3D optimal design of manufacturable compact heat exchangers.


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 at least distinction,
  • 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 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 Python and C++, 
  • Numerical optimization,
  • Parallel computing,
  • Flow solvers,
  • 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 successful candidate is expected to start as early as possible, but no later than October 1st 2022 (upon agreement with Prof. Blommaert)