Project code



School of Mechanical and Design Engineering

Start dates

October, February and April

Application deadline

Applications accepted all year round

Applications are invited for a 3 year PhD to commence in October 2020 or February 2021.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Technology and will be supervised by Professor Hom Dhakal, Dr Zhongyi Zhang and Dr Antigoni Barouni.

The work on this project could involve:

  • Fabrication of woven and non-woven composite laminates and their hybrids;
  • Experimental investigation of the influence of morphological structure and process parameters on the fracture toughness (mode I and II) and falling weight impact damage and failure modes;
  • Understanding the mechanics of hybrid system, delamination and interfacial characteristics;
  • Characterisation interface, evolution of damage and damage modes using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and X-ray Computed Micro-Tomography (µCT).

The ever-increasing demand for lower CO 2 emission has driven intensive research into sustainable lightweight materials in transport sector (automotive, marine, aerospace and aerospace). Natural fibres such as flax and hemp are stiff and lighter reinforcements (density 1.5 g/cm 3 ) compared to glass fibres (density 2.54 g/cm 3 ), having a better strength to weight ratio to glass fibres. This advantageous specific property favours the use of these lightweight reinforcements to manufacture sustainable composites suitable for transport sector.

Natural fibre reinforced composites with high strength and stiffness together possessing an acceptable fracture toughness and impact damage characteristics closer to conventional glass fibre composites are of great importance in terms of developing lightweight and environmentally sustainable composite materials for structural applications. In recent years, hybrid approach has been recommended as a viable means to enhance the overall mechanical and long term durability of natural fibre composites. However, understanding hybrid compatibility (interfacial layer characteristics), failure behaviours, structure property relationships and dealing with their natural variability are most challenging issues for the use of natural fibre reinforced composites and biocomposites in transport sector. Moreover, their inferior mechanical properties in comparison to their conventional counterparts has limited the use of these composites mainly in non-structural and semi-structural applications.

The proposed PhD focuses on the development of lightweight hybrid composites with performance close to the conventional glass fibre composites by investigating optimal fibre geometry and suitable manufacturing techniques and parameters. An in-depth understanding of morphological structure of natural fibre reinforcements and the structure property relationships and influence of manufacturing parameters on the fracture toughness (mode I and II) and impact damage characteristics will be further investigated by comparing experimental and numerical modelling.

The proposal aligns with the future and emerging technologies and sustainability and environment thematic research areas of the University of Portsmouth.

Fees and funding

Visit the research subject area page for fees and funding information for this project.

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

  • A good basis in computer programming is essential for the post.
  • Some experience with code development (e.g. Matlab) and CFD modelling are desirable.
  • Background in mechanical engineering and metallurgy is desirable.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills with ability to prepare presentations, reports and journal papers to the highest levels of quality.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Prof. Hom Dhakal ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.


When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Mechanical and Design Engineering PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake.

If you want to be considered for this PhD opportunity you must quote project code SMDE5390220 when applying.