More than 80% of the world’s energy consumption involves some form of combustion. From a global warming perspective, combustion remains the most challenging technology until carbon capture and sequestration become feasible. Nevertheless, we will continue to use fossil fuels for a long time, as it will take several decades for renewable alternatives to become economically viable on a multi-terawatt scale. In the interim, the rising demand for energy in developing countries, coupled with the overall growth of the world economy, will necessitate ever-increasing sources of fossil fuels, beyond oil and natural gas upon which we largely depend now. In addition to coal, tar sands, oil shale and biofuels may become significant components of the world’s energy portfolio, especially in the likely scenario that the discovery of new oil and natural gas reserves does not keep up with increased demand and also in view of the need for energy security. Regardless of the fuel source, it is clear that the burning of a broad range of fuels will pose new challenges to the clean and efficient implementation of their combustion, which will necessitate fundamental studies in well-defined and well-controlled environments.

The faculty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science is very active in combustion, using experimental, computational, and mathematical techniques to investigate the fundamentals of chemically reacting and multiphase combustion systems. Research can be broadly classified into two categories: complex, and inevitably turbulent, fluid mechanics, but simple chemical kinetics (usually H2 or CH4 oxidation); or simple, and inevitably laminar, fluid mechanics, but complex kinetics (including mixtures of large hydrocarbons and aromatics). Present research directions include: the study of the structure of laminar flames, under normal and reduced gravity, for simple fuels and complex fuel blends; soot formation, including high-pressure conditions; laser diagnostics for temperature, species, velocity distributions and soot characteristics in flames; microscale combustion; spray combustion; turbulent flames; and energetic materials. Research support comes from government sources, such as AFOSR, NSF, DOE, ARO, and NASA, and from industrial sponsors such as the United Technologies Research Center.

Research Facilities
Center laboratories in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science are equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation for planar laser-induced fluorescence, Raman spectroscopy, absorption and emission spectroscopy, nonlinear optical spectroscopy, photo ionization spectroscopy, Fourier transform spectroscopy, laser Doppler anemometry, phase Doppler anemometry, elastic and inelastic light scattering, gas chromatography, and mass spectrometry. The labs are also equipped with an assortment of laminar and turbulent burners. Computational facilities include a 168-core cluster, with each node connected to a high-speed DDR IB network and a scalable file system.  The cluster provides researchers with access to a full suite of development tools and optimized software packages.  Several other systems are also in use, including a 16-node cluster and an 8-way SMP.

Faculty involved with research:

Drew R. Gentner
– ChE & EnvE & Forestry & Env. Studies

Alessandro Gomez
– ME & MSE

Marshall B. Long
– ME & MSE

Lisa D. Pfefferle
– ChE & EnvE

Daniel E. Rosner
– ChE & EnvE

Mitchell D. Smooke
– ME & MSE

Beth Anne V. Bennett
– ME & MSE