3D printed graphene sensors in structural health monitoring for composite turbine blades

Applications are invited for a 3.5-year MPhil/PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2021.

To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Mechanical Engineering, then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within Offshore Renewable Energy and name the project at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

Take a look at the Doctoral College's general information on applying for a research degree.

Project description 

High stiffness- and strength-to-weight ratios, superior environmental resistance and fatigue life, have led to fibre reinforced plastics (FRP) composites being widely used in offshore renewable energy devices (ORE). Since FRP composites can be moulded to complex shapes, these materials have been successfully introduced to construct the blades of tidal or wind turbines. The common damages of composite blades can occur in a various way, i.e. in fibre- reinforced laminates in the skin, in the gelcoat, but very often, the damage is formed in the adhesive layer joining upstream and downstream skins, depending on material properties, environmental conditions, loadings, and geometry. Considering the vast scale of modern turbine blades and offshore installation, inspection and maintenance work is a tremendous challenge.

The conventional non-destructive testing (NDT) methods, such as ultrasonic, X-ray, thermography and eddy current methods have been employed to detect the damages in composites. However, these NDT methods, merely allowing the off-line testing in a local manner with complicated and heavy equipment, are labour-extensive and time-consuming especially for large-scale turbine blades. The structural health monitoring (SHM) method combined advanced sensor technology with intelligent algorithms allows real-time and on-line damage detection via in-situ sensors.

This project aims to develop and demonstrate graphene-based sensors in structural health monitoring for composite turbine blades by using 3D printing technology. The superior electrical conductivity of graphene has shown evidence that with a small fraction of graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs) dispersed, a nonelectrical conductive polymer can be converted to a conductor. Due to the quantum tunnel effects, this conversion can be achieved even if the GNPs do not physically contact to each other, however the electrical conductivity of such GNPs reinforced polymer is extremely sensitive to the distance between the adjacent GNPs – with an exponential relation. Therefore, it is possible to take this advantage to transform the mechanical deformation to the change of electrical conductivity. With the 3D printing technology, the GNPs reinforced polymer can be printed on a complex shape of composite blade.

The successful candidate will liaise with a vibrant supervision team formed across academic and industry. The project involves experimental investigation and numerical simulation. The work will complement the existing EU project (InterReg SeaBioComp).


Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification. 

The studentship is supported for three and a half years and includes full home tuition fees plus a stipend of £15,609 per annum (2021/22 rate). The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants normally required to cover international fees will have to cover the difference between the home and the International tuition fee rates (approximately £12,697 per annum).

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Maozhou Meng maozhou.meng@plymouth.ac.uk. However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at the University of Plymouth and to apply for this position please visit: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/student-life/your-studies/research-degrees

Please mark it FAO Doctoral College and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics.

For more information on the admissions process email the Doctoral College, doctoralcollege@plymouth.ac.uk.

The closing date for applications is 19 April 2021. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview the week beginning 3 May 2021. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 31 May should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.