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In search of a cleaner, more efficient combustion engine

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Posted May 31, 2019

While diesel engines offer better fuel economy and stronger towing power than gasoline-powered engines, they also produce more polluting emissions. Now, a scientist in the University of Georgia’s College of Engineering is working with his academic and industry collaborators to design a better, cleaner diesel engine using the emerging technology of low-temperature combustion, or LTC.

“The strength of LTC engines is that they take advantage of all the benefits of conventional diesel engines but since combustion occurs at a lower temperature, LTC engines produce lower emissions,” said Javad Mohammadpour Velni, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the project’s principal investigator.

Javad Mohammadpour Velni, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Javad Mohammadpour Velni, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Velni and his colleagues at Michigan Tech and Cummins, the largest diesel engine manufacturer in the world, are developing a dual fuel LTC engine. Their design is powered by diesel and natural gas for high performance and low emissions. The technology simultaneously reduces pollutants, including black soot and toxic nitrogen oxides that cause smog, while reducing fuel consumption.

But moving this technology from the laboratory to the nation’s highways poses a huge challenge because of all the engine variables that must be taken into account and optimally controlled.

Velni is developing predictive models that will be used to design complex control algorithms that will then be tested in engines at Michigan Tech’s state-of-the-art transportation research facilities. These decision-making algorithms – the “brain” of the engine – automatically control everything from fuel flow, air intake, combustion temperature and emissions to enable the engine to operate at its most efficient.

“We need accurate yet relatively simple models,” Velni said of the sophisticated code that needs to be easily translated to industry. “Once we have these control-oriented, low-order models developed, we’ll use them for the purpose of designing and implementing controllers on LTC engines.”

The team’s work is funded by the National Science Foundation through its Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) program, which seeks to stimulate collaboration between academic research institutions and industry. It’s the first GOALI grant awarded to a faculty member in UGA’s College of Engineering.

Although he calls it a “limited first step,” Velni and his collaborators have already had a research paper accepted based on their preliminary work that showed promise on an engine test bench at Michigan Tech.

Velni believes the LTC technology is the future of combustion engines. He also hopes the project helps build a long-term relationship between UGA and the automotive industry.

“My hope is that Cummins and other automotive companies will get to know UGA and our research capabilities at the College of Engineering better,” Velni said.

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