How does scientific research on materials make our planet more sustainable?
The research of prof. Kim Verbeken, prof. Tom Depover, prof. Inge Bellemans and their team is directly linked with the big challenges we face as a society. One of these challenges is sustainable energy. Hydrogen is considered to be a very promising energy carrier, since it produces no CO2. However, several concerns are related to the transport and storage of hydrogen. Hydrogen can degrade metallic materials, which can lead to unpredictable and catastrophic failures. The Sustainable Materials Science research group develops knowledge on the interaction between hydrogen and different materials and has internationally renowned expertise on the development of relevant and dedicated experimental methodologies, which will be key in our transition to sustainable energy.
Another research area related to environmental assisted cracking of materials is about corrosion. Corrosion is the degradation of materials by (sometimes aggressive) environments (e.g. by chemicals or marine environments). In Belgium, corrosion occurs in many applications such as metallic constructions, chemical industry and offshore platforms, and has an estimated cost of around 10 billion euros per year. The Sustainable Materials Science research group investigates the mechanisms behind the corrosion process and, moreover, how it can be prevented. This can lead to huge savings of materials as it maximes their lifetime.
A third research line is linked to recycling of metals. Since we use more and more materials and metals, they risk to become depleted. Therefore, we need to recycle them and aim for a circular economy. Pyrometallurgy, the extraction of metals at high temperatures (up to more than 1000°C) is one of the main technological processes in that perspective. It is widely applied by companies like Umicore and ArcelorMittal. In order to realize pyrometallurgical processes with optimal efficiency, which lead to pure and clean metals which can afterwards be re-used, the process needs to be understood very well. The Sustainable Materials Science research group optimizes pyrometallurgical processes combining both experiments and computational modeling.
Knowledge on materials, metals and their behavior is thus of huge importance for our economy and to make our planet more sustainable. The team of prof. Kim Verbeken is embedded within the Metals industrial research platform at Ghent University, ensuring an optimal link between the academic research and industrial needs.