In the last years, VITO has developed a strong expertise and IP portfolio toward the valorization of lignin (the second most abundant biopolymer on earth), especially via the depolymerization of lignin into smaller bio-aromatic molecules and via the design of lignin-based biopolymers. Depending on the bio aromatic fractions obtained from the lignin conversion processes, different chemical modifications and polymerization pathways have been envisaged and developed, such as polyurethanes, polyacrylates, epoxy resins, polyesters, or phenolic resins.
To further improve the properties of these lignin-based polymers and widen their application scope, it is interesting to integrate them in composite materials, and especially bio-nano-composites. A bio-composite is a composite material formed by a bio-derived matrix (in our case the lignin-based resins) and a reinforcement of natural fibers (for example cotton, flax or hemp, sawdust, recycled wood, waste paper or crop processing by-products) while nanocomposites contain a reinforcement (either of biobased or fossil-based origin) that exhibits at least one dimension on the nanometer scale (such as cellulose nanofibers, carbon nanotubes, graphene…).
Both the material properties of the individual components (resin and fillers), the chemistry of their interface and the geometry of the assembly are important for determining the properties of the bio-nano-composites. The interest in bio-nano-composites is rapidly growing in terms of industrial applications (automobiles, railway coach, aerospace, military applications, construction or packaging) and fundamental research, due to the great benefits they provide such as improved mechanical properties, renewability, light-weight, or visual appearance.
This PhD will focus on the material design of bio-nano-composites using various lignin-based polymers as binders, combined with selected (nano-scale) reinforcement materials. The material design will focus on the design of the induvial components, the tailoring of their interface, the development of functional applications prototypes, and also integrate the possibility to recycle the obtained composites.
VITO and VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) offer a PhD scholarship to the candidate for 4 years (2+2). Globally the intention is for the candidate to spend 75% of their time in VITO and 25% in VUB. University affiliation for this PhD will be the FYSC group (Physical Chemistry and Polymer Science) at the VUB, a group with extensive expertise in structure-property relationships of polymeric materials. The VUB promotor for his PhD will be Prof. Niko Van den Brande.
At VITO, the PhD candidate will work within the Sustainable Polymer Technologies (SPOT) team (https://spot.vito.be/en), under the supervision of Richard Vendamme. Collaboration with biopolymer experts within VITO will create the synergistic environment required for the success of the project.
How to apply?
Applications should be submitted online and should include a copy of your CV and a cover letter. You can apply for this PhD vacancy no later than September 30, 2022.
For more information, please contact dr. Richard Vendamme (firstname.lastname@example.org).