Composite Materials Group (CMG)
Research in polymer matrix composites in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering (MTM) of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven was started in 1982 at the beginning of the postdoctoral research of Ignaas Verpoest. During the first, exploratory years, many different research topics were covered, mainly related to the mechanical behaviour of composites. Gradually, emphasis was put on textile reinforced composites, on advanced processing methods for composites and on sandwich materials. More recently, research on natural fibre composites, multilevel composites (containing nano- ànd meso-reinforcements), and physical chemistry of composites has become more important.
The Composite Materials Group (CMG) is coordinated by prof. Ignaas Verpoest, full professor at K.U.Leuven since 1991, and by prof. Stepan Lomov, fulltime senior researcher associate (since 1999) and part-time professor (since 2001). Furthermore, the five research lines are being coordinated by two senior research associates, dr.ir. Larissa Gorbatikh and dr.ir. Aart-Willem van Vuure, by prof. Jan Ivens, professor at the Lessius University College (member of the K.U.Leuven Associatie) and affiliated researcher to the Department MTM, and by prof. David Seveno, part-time associate professor at K.U.Leuven since 2013.
- The Composite Materials Group attracts a very international group of researchers, representing 12 different countries: 15 PhD students, 7 project researchers (of which 3 postdocs) and some 15 master's students. They work enthusiastically in fundamental and applied research projects, funded by the Flemish, Belgian and European governments and by the industry. Skilled technicians develop and optimise sophisticated processing and testing equipment.
The international orientation of CMG is further evidenced by the numerous and intensive collaborations with universities in Europe, America, Asia and Africa, and by the active involvement in international composites societies (ESCM, ICCM, SAMPE…) and conferences (ICCM, ECCM, TexComp, IPCM, FPCM…).
CMG is furthermore involved in innovative educational projects, like the European Master's Programme in Polymer and Composites Engineering (EUPOCO, started in 1990). This initially one-year additional Master’s program has now become part of the two-year Master in Materials Engineering (MME), a fully English program which has an option “Polymers and Composites”.
SLC, the Sirris-Leuven Composites Application Lab, is a joint initiative of Sirris and K.U.Leuven, launched in 2009. It was built upon the research in the Composite Materials Group of K.U.Leuven, and the existing “TAD (Technology Advisory Service) Compolight” of Sirris. SLC provides composites related, application oriented support to the industry (product and process development, testing, pre-design, cost analysis, consulting…). SLC has actually five employees, and will soon extend it’s collaboration towards other composite competence centres in Flanders.
In 2006, the composite materials group was a founding member of the Leuven Materials Research Centre (Leuven MRC). In LeuvenMRC 19 different K.U.Leuven departments join their research, knowhow and equipment on materials science and engineering. More specifically, our Composite materials Group is intensively collaborating with research groups within the departments of Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Chemistry.
FIVE MAIN RESEARCH LINES
Composites on Micro- and Nano- Level (Coordination: dr. Larissa Gorbatikh)
Next level of improvement of composite properties requests “engineering” on micro-and nano-levels. The challenge of researchers in the CMG is to find innovative concepts to bring superior properties of nano-reinforcements from nano-level to macro-level. New research directions are dedicated to:
- Understanding behavior of nano-reinforcements, their synthesis and interactions with fibres;
- Characterizing dispersions;
- Creating hierarchical matrices with intelligent placement of nano-reinforcements;
- Developing modeling capabilities
Processing & Application Development (Coordination: prof. Jan Ivens)
The applicability of composite materials can be strongly enhanced by the concurrent development and optimisation of composite materials, products and their manufacturing processes.
In the process development, focus is on:
- Optimisation of thermoplastic manufacturing processes like thermoforming and injection molding
- Development of hybrid materials using fused deposition modeling
- Optimization of RTM and RTM-light processes
- Metal plate based molds for low-pressure manufacturing of polymers and composites
Projects in application development encompass:
- Design and evaluation of light-weight structural elements
- Self-deploying objects based on shape memory foams
- Improvement of the crash behavior of helmets by means of anisotropic foams
Composites on Macro- and Meso- Level (Coordination: prof. Stepan Lomov)
Composites are considered as one of the important examples of hierarchically organised structured materials. Apart from textile composites, random fibre composites and multilevel composites (nano-micro-meso-macro) also textiles, porous materials and biomaterials are being studied, both experimentally and by modeling.
Modeling studies concentrate on
- the internal material architecture and it’s visualization,
- deformation of the material and permeability
- mechanical properties and damage development.
Experimental studies deal with
- manufacturing (forming, deformability, impregnation, permeability)
- performance of the hierarchical materials (stiffness, strength, durability).
Physical Chemistry of Composites (Coordination: prof. David Seveno)
A composite is not characterized solely by the choice of its constituents but also by the nature of their interactions. Tuning the physical and chemical properties of the matrix, the fibres, and the nano-reinforcement to engineer these interactions is a way to supply better quality composites. Research themes focus on both modelling and experimental techniques dealing with:
- Matrix modification
- Fibre wetting
- CNT surface properties
- Surface treatment
Natural Fibre- and Bio- Composites (Coordination: dr. Aart-Willem van Vuure)
Natural fibre and bio-based composites have many potential advantages like renewability, low energy utilisation, low carbon footprint, high specific mechanical properties (low density), often low cost, health and safety benefits and specific technical features like acoustic and vibrational damping and low CTE.
Research themes are:
- Mechanical performance of both natural fibres and composites and study of fibre morphology
- Understanding and improving the fibre-matrix interfacial adhesion
- Selection and development of (bio) polymer matrices
- Development of novel fibre processing methods (fibre extraction, prepregging)