Fundamental study of biofuel combustion: flame stabilisation and emissions using advanced optical diagnostics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering

Abstract

World-wide, energy conversion is currently dominated by the combustion of fossil fuels. Electricity generation and transport are key energy consumers and contribute significantly to atmospheric CO2, NOx, and particulate emission. There is an increasing awareness in the public eye of the potential impact of particulates on health. This includes a higher risk of cancer, asthma and a potential contribution to neurodegenerative disorders (e.g., Alzheimer's disease). In the UK, particulate matter (PM) from combustion processes is a significant contributor to poor air quality in urban areas; it has been reported that more than 25,000 deaths per year could be attributed to long-term exposure to anthropogenic particulate air pollution. As reported by DEFRA, poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, contributing to an estimated £2.7 billion per year in lost productivity. Air pollution also results in damage to the natural environment, contributing to the acidification of soil and watercourses. An obvious solution might be to move towards the replacement of vehicles with electric, however, this technology is limited by range, recharge times and the cost of the battery - for which there is currently not the sufficient global infrastructure to directly replace vehicles powered by internal combustion engine powered. Another complementary solution is to find alternative fuels that are tailored to reduce destructive emissions such as NOx and particulates. This has the advantage that it could be rapidly deployed due to the overlap with existing fuel station infrastructure.

The main aim of the proposed research is to provide a fundamental understanding of the combustion performance and emissions characteristics of key biofuels. This is vital knowledge to aid the development of next-generation low carbon technologies. The key objectives are: (1) to provide high-quality experimental data from a study of spray flame behaviour and emissions using advanced optical diagnostic techniques such as laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy and laser-induced fluorescence, (2) to develop new combustion chemical kinetic models, based on COSILAB (Combustion Simulation Laboratory software), predicting soot and NOx emissions and (3) to establish collaborations with industrial and academic partners to investigate power generation and transport applications for next-generation biofuels.

In the proposed research, the targeted biofuels are: (1) ethanol, (2) iso-pentanol, (3) dimethyl ether (DME) and (4) combined fuels - ethanol, iso-pentanol, DME and biomethane. These key fuels are potentially next-generation biofuels. The production paths of these fuels are either well established or achievable. Ethanol and DME have already shown evidence of reduced emissions from engine tests. The understanding of combustion chemistry is essential to enable the delivery of a low NOx and soot emission combustion system. How the local chemistry is influenced by various turbulent flow conditions will be examined in detail.

Planned Impact

The ultimate goal of the proposed research is to improve the air quality, reducing combustion-induced emission pollution, enhancing public health and help maintain a resilient nation. The research will accelerate the development of alternative fuels for power generation and transport to meet with increased energy demand globally.

Dissemination to society will be through a range of activities to reach a variety of stakeholders. The workshops will be held at Loughborough University in September 2020 and 2021 inviting guest speakers from policy authorities, industrial technology-development manager and academic representors across biofuel refinery, biofuel combustion and low-carbon combustion technologies and engine development. The workshops are open to public to increase the awareness of the importance of clean combustion technologies and fuel sustainability. Annual outreach to the local community will be conducted through the Loughborough Community Day to increase the awareness of the importance of clean combustion technologies and fuel sustainability. A website will also be set up containing current research activities.

The biofuel combustion and emission characteristics are essential knowledge for developing the next-generation low-emission biofuel combustion engines and power generators. The research will be shared with industrial partners, for example, Perkins Engines, to discuss the potential application of biofuel combustion in gas and diesel engines. The proposed research will also initiate the development on the cost-effective modelling methods, especially targeting at the biofuel combustion and emission characteristics, aiding the industrial model development and reducing the time taken to deliver the next-generation sustainable and energy-efficient products.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/S017259/1 31/08/2019 30/08/2020 £343,787
EP/S017259/2 Transfer EP/S017259/1 01/12/2020 28/02/2023 £244,778
 
Description From the combustion study of DME (a new fuel which can be obtained from renewable sources) leads to particulate-free emissions. The blending of DME to conventional fuels may help reduce the particulate emissions due to the effect on the formation of soot precursors; however a critical blending ratio may apply when adding DME to certain fuels, where the correlation between the DME percentage and the soot reduction is not linear.

A simulation study on diesel engine combustion showed that biodiesels produced from different feedstocks (waste cooking oil vs algae oil) will have different in-engine combustion performances and emissions characteristics, such as soot and NOx emissions. The life-cycle assessment showed different global warming potentials but advanced CO2e savings compared to diesel and H2 fuels produced by steam reforming (powered by coal). Thus, biofuel and its application in power and electricity generation will help decarbonising various sectors.
Exploitation Route The DME study will inform LPG industry stakeholders and push forward the bioLPG transition in the off-grid sector; it accelerates the R&D in renewable DME and its application to provide alternative low-carbon heating.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Transport

 
Description The findings on combustion and emissions characteristics of targeted biofuels from this funded research have been reached to a wider audience through public engagement activities (such as outreach - school seminar; policy briefing; open and free virtual biofuel workshop and early career energy researchers conference). Both public and policy advisors engaged through these activities have obtain a clearer overall view of energy and carbon footprint, and how can biofuels help achieve the net-zero 2050 ambition. The specific study on DME combustion and emissions has attracted interests from LPG industries and led to a secondment opportunity and a CASE studentship to foster further research development and collaborations in the transition of bioLPG through renewable DME.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Energy,Environment,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description (1/3 Match-funding) Secondment - EPSRC/SHVE/UoS
Amount £10,928 (GBP)
Organisation SHV Energy 
Sector Private
Country Netherlands
Start 03/2022 
End 06/2022
 
Description (1/3 Match-funding) Secondment - EPSRC/SHVE/UoS
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sheffield 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 06/2022
 
Description EPSRC CASE conversion studentship 2022 part 1 (EPSRC (Main Funder), UNLISTED (Dimeta - the name for the new joint venture between SHV Energy and UGI))
Amount £80,436 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2022 
End 09/2026
 
Description EPSRC CASE conversion studentship 2022 part 2 (EPSRC (Main Funder), UNLISTED (Dimeta - the name for the new joint venture between SHV Energy and UGI))
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation SHV Energy 
Sector Private
Country Netherlands
Start 09/2022 
End 09/2026
 
Description EPSRC DTP studentships x 2 (plus additional award on the international fee x 1) 2021
Amount £160,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2021 
End 03/2025
 
Description EPSRC Supergen Bioenergy Hub Flexible Funding 2021 - Secondments
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Funding ID SGBS0001 Yuan 
Organisation Aston University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 06/2022
 
Description SHV Energy - UGI (Dimeta): rDME 
Organisation SHV Energy
Country Netherlands 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Through the funded research on the combustion characteristics of the new fuel DME, the understanding on the flame length, heat release, combustion emissions of the DME and DME/CH4/C2H4 blends are of great value and interest to the industry partner, to support their innovation activities in renewable fuels. SHV Energy was the first company in the world to commercialise and sell bioLPG and has the bold ambition to provide 100% of our energy products from renewable sources in 2040. Renewable and recycled carbon DME (rDME) will play an important role in meeting that ambition. My work on the combustion and emissions of DME and DME blends has led to a funded secondment (3-month) to the joint-venture (between SHVE and UGI newly registered as Dimeta), in which I'll help review existing literature (confidential company data, scientific papers, industry publications etc.) and work alongside colleagues at SHV Energy to shape the future of this programme of technical and safety research, in order to define the appropriate parameters, controls and regulations required to introduce rDME as a renewable fuel.
Collaborator Contribution SHV Energy and it's joint-venture with UGI (referred below as Dimeta) will provide (50/50) finical and technical support to the secondment and to a CASE conversion PhD studentship. For the secondment, the company will provide access to their resources & understandings on bioLPG and DME from commercial applications aspects. For the funded PhD programme (2022 - 2026), Dimeta will provide £40,000 in cash contribution, which will be used for stipend top-up (£15,000) and research costs (£25,000). Additionally, Dimeta will also provide in-kind support, comprising: • three or more commercial appliances (estimated costs of £10,000) to the PhD project for testing • advisory support, resources and trainings (estimated time and resources costs of £25,000) • and travel and accommodation costs for a 6-month placement of the PhD student in the company, and for travel to the quarterly meetings with industrial supervisor & accommodation for these if required (estimated costs of £10,000), an estimated total of £45,000 in-kind contribution.
Impact - secondment award (EPSRC supergen bioenergy hub flexible fund, July 2021: project Ref. SGBS001 Yuan) - CASE conversion award 2022 - briefing document on off-grid heating - support the R&D on renewable energy (rDME/bioLPG blends) solutions on decarbonising (off-grid) heating.
Start Year 2022
 
Description Biofuel workshop - ECR conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Initiated and successfully ran (organised & chaired) a biofuel workshop (inviting international experts in the subject area to give a talk and as a panelist for discussion) and an ECR conference at the Energy Institute of the University of Sheffield, on net-zero energy pathways, attracted 170 + attendees internationally from industry, government funding bodies, academic, research institute, local school, and local consultants. My PhD student funded by this fellowship work have also present in the ECR conference. Both events have received very good feedback where attendees found the content and discussions valuable.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://ruoyang-research.co.uk/event/workshop-opportunities-and-obstacles-in-utilising-biofuels/
 
Description POSTnote on International Shipping and Emissions 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Contributed to a latest parliamentary report (POSTnote) on International Shipping and Emissions. The report has published online and being promoted on social media (Twitter and on LinkedIn).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
URL https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0665/
 
Description Scientific advisor - the famous five play 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Acted as a scientific advisor for a play rewrite based on the Famous Five series (target audience are 8 years plus) which will be on show in August 2022. In the play, one of the characters is a scientist working in the field of renewable energy. Initial conversation with the playwright discussed the funded research on biofuels and on its role it will play in deliver net-zero emissions target and in the future energy system. Biofuels investigated in this funded research such as algae derived biofuels, and renewable DME, and the current at the front research into how to incorporate the new fuels to create power and electricity will be imbedded into the play. We are hoping this research will help intrigue young generation into science and engineering, and create an inspiration for more involvements in future energy research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Tapton School Seminar: Energy and Carbon Footprint 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Delivered a talk on Energy and carbon footprint to school students, as part of their science seminar series, and gave them an insight into science researcher as a career as well as fostering a love of the subject in Energy and environmental sustainability by taking them beyond their A-level specification. The talk has sparked questions and discussion afterwards around new fuels and energy forms.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021