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Athens is an integrated collaboration between the different regions of Flanders, Wallonia and France, researching different joining techniques of biodegradable thermoplastic composites and drawing up a demonstration model to transfer this information to industry.

The project

The use of fiber-reinforced plastics enables manufacturers in the transport sector and automotive to build light, yet very stiff and strong (sandwich) structures. This is in line with the evolution towards minimizing vehicle weight and maximizing payload, for both freight and passenger transport. This is clearly part of an overarching effort to reduce the ecological footprint of transport.

Not only the optimal technical performance of lightweight structures contributes to their ecological sustainability, but also the basic materials used and the production processes used. In this respect, natural fiber reinforced thermoplastic plastic structures offer a solution that is both technologically (performance) and ecologically attractive.

This project focuses on an extremely important aspect in lightweight structures, namely the connection of individual components (panels, reinforcements, inserts, ...). The use of thermoplastic plastics as a base material by definition allows a number of different joining techniques such as gluing, welding and mechanical joining.

This project focuses on two continuous joining techniques, namely laser welding and structural bonding, and addresses a number of current bottlenecks.

Firstly, this project will optimize natural fiber reinforced plastics. Both for welding and gluing, the surface area of ​​the components to be joined is crucial for a qualitative connection. From the point of view of material composition and industrially applied design processes, natural fiber reinforced thermoplastics are optimized (surface energy, fiber orientation, ...) for both connection types. A synergy between numerical simulations and targeted experiments is provided for this.

Secondly, for these materials, this project will analyze and optimize structural bonding and welding as a process. The focus is on providing additives in the glues used and tuning the laser welding process parameters (wavelength, intensity, ...). The result of these optimisations is basically validated against connections at the coupon level.

Third, this project aims to develop a number of demonstrators on a semi-industrial scale that will enable researchers to fully characterize and validate the mechanical performance of both compounds in an industrially relevant manner. They bring together all the generated 'know-how' of this project and are intended to disseminate the optimized joining techniques to a broad industrial network.

Interregional cooperation

Within priority 1 of the Interreg program, program objective 1 focuses on complementary strengthening of research and innovation in the cross-border region. This project combines various strategic research competences of the research institutions involved.

The research project is based on natural fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites. The KU Leuven research group involved is strongly active in applied research around the processing of plastics. The plastic processing industry is strongly represented in (West) Flanders and the demand for this type of research is strong and growing.

In addition, KU Leuven has extensive expertise in the various aspects of structural bonding and there is growing industrial research and services that are partly based on Flemish regional industry.

Region map 1

Armines offers expertise in (fiber-reinforced) plastics. There is a focus on the development of welding processes for thermoplastic plastics. This research center conducts research in close collaboration with the (Northern French) industry and has a long tradition of networking with various industrial partners.

Materia NOVA has extensive expertise in material composition, material characterization and tuning. This research center has been conducting state-of-the-art research for years in collaboration with high-tech (aerospace) companies, including those from Wallonia. The research institutions involved are strongly anchored with their respective local industrial network. Furthermore, the typical industrial activities of the regions concerned are highly complementary in this project. In Northern France, for example, there is strong industrial activity in the development and manufacture of composite parts, including for transport applications. This region is also strongly agricultural in the production of natural fibers.

The Athens project bundles research institutes within the target regions, with the higher objective of bringing together industrial partners and existing industrial pools around the problems posed in order to build a cross-border network. This project therefore aims to contribute to the mutual strengthening of the target regions. The proposed cross-border cooperation is not only necessary, it will expand the win-win situation in the field of research and extend it to an industrial level.



The France-Wallonia-Flanders program: 5 French and Belgian regions working together to blur the border. The Interreg France-Wallonia-Flanders European Territorial Cooperation program was born out of a desire to promote economic and social exchanges between four border regions: the Hauts-de-France and Grand Est regions of France; Wallonia and West and East Flanders in Belgium. The program aims to pool common expertise, while at the same time enhancing the potential of each region concerned, for the benefit of the people of the zone.

A total amount of EUR 170 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) will be allocated to the program to support projects linked to the 4 themes of the cooperation:

  • research, innovation and technology transfer
  • competitiveness of SME
  • heritage, natural resources and risk management of
  • social cohesion, health, training and employment


KU Leuven

KU Leuven is a research and educational institution with an international reputation. All courses at this university are based on the innovative research of its scientists and professors.

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Materia Nova

MATERIA NOVA is the materials innovation center at the University of Bergen. It has about 90 researchers and highly trained technicians. The complementarity between the available expertise and infrastructure enables Materia Nova to offer a wide range of R&D services to scientific and industrial partners. This R&D work is in the field of polymer materials, (nano) composites, treatment of wet or dry surfaces (plasma) and biotechnologies.

Materia Nova's mission within the ATHENS project is in the domain of synthesis, composition, characterization and structure of interphase composite polymer systems. This is complemented by expertise in surface chemistry and the development of specific interactions between different polymer phases in the case of mixtures and polymer alloys or between the organic matrix and the fibers and / or fillers (particles in the case of composites).

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IMT Nord Europe

Created by the merger of Mines Douai and Télécom Lille on January 1, 2017, IMT Nord Europe is the largest engineering course north of Paris, training general engineers and digital experts of the future. Every year, IMT Lille Douai, an IMT school in collaboration with the University of Lille, awards diplomas to more than 500 talented engineers trained to anticipate economic and social change.

Cropped IMT Nord Europe


ARMINES is a private non-profit research and technology organization (RTO) that was funded in 1967 at the urging of its partner engineering schools, the Ecoles des Mines network. ARMINES currently shares 48 joint research units (joint research centers) with its partner schools, where each legal entity, whether private or public, provides staff, investment and operational resources for joint research.

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Associated partners

Following associated partners ensure that the target audience for the dissemination of this information may be extended, where an interaction between industrial needs and scientific research can be optimally matched.