Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center

Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011

Chung K. Law, the Robert H. Goddard Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, directs the $20 million Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center, one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers established by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Law describes recent advances in the center as follows:

"Since the August 2009 establishment of the Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center (CEFRC), the center’s 15 principal investigators from seven academic institutions and two Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories have been pursuing the stated mission of 'developing a validated, predictive, multi-scale, combustion modeling capability to optimize the design and operation of evolving fuels in advanced engines for transportation applications.'

"Biobutanol and biodiesel have been targeted as the immediate fuels of investigation. In contrast to ethanol, which is the dominant biofuel presently marketed, biobutanol can be synthesized from various non-food sources, has higher energy content, mixes well with gasoline, is not corrosive, and is under active development by major energy and chemical industries for commercialization by 2013.

"A major CEFRC advance has been the development of the first-generation reaction mechanism describing the oxidation of butanol, which is relevant for engine combustion. This significant advance was achieved through the collaborative and coordinated efforts of all the CEFRC principal investigators, involving quantum mechanical computation of the reaction kinetics, diagnostics using laser and synchrotron radiation, flame propagation in high-pressure environments simulating the engine interior, and computational simulation of turbulent flames. A detailed understanding of this reaction mechanism is needed for the simulation and optimization of engine design and operation using biobutanol.

"The center has also developed a strategy of blending ethanol and biodiesel in diesel fuel to moderate synergistically the undesirable soot emission propensity of diesel and the non-volatility of biodiesel. The concept capitalizes on the low-sooting property of biodiesel and the high volatility, or tendency to vaporize, of ethanol, which affects how readily the fuel can be burned. By tweaking the important fuel properties related to soot and volatility, this blending strategy and others like it hold promise for the design of future clean-burning and robust biofuels synthesized from a wide stream of biofeedstocks."