Understanding Combustion is key to Renewable Fuels

Understanding Combustion is key to Renewable Fuels
June 1, 2017 Lauren Attana

Associate Professor Paul Medwell

Pictured (L-R): Dr Michael Evans & Associate Professor Paul Medwell

eRSA services in use: HPC, Storage & Cloud

Dr Paul Medwell’s research looks at predicting and understanding combustion processes. An Associate Professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Adelaide, he and his research group have been using eRSA services since 2013, through the partnership with The University of Adelaide.

“We have used the Tizard supercomputer for our computationally-expensive modelling and Nectar Cloud for running multiple parametric studies simultaneously. In addition to our computational results, we also use storage to ensure reliable archiving of our experimental results from laser diagnostic and optical measurements.”

“My research focusses on flames that occur in a very low oxygen environment. The so-called Moderate or Intense Low oxygen Dilution (MILD) combustion regime enables very high efficiency with a reduction in many key pollutants. These benefits come about because of the more distributed heat release profile under the low oxygen conditions. Despite the reduction of oxygen, these flames still burn completely. MILD combustion technology is extremely attractive for industrial purposes and is widely used in furnaces for some specific applications. Nevertheless, exactly how and why it works it not fully known. Without this crucial knowledge, we cannot reliably push this technology into new applications. In particular, we are investigating approaches that could see the implementation of MILD combustion into gas turbine engines.”

Paul’s research aims to increase knowledge of combustion systems. By understanding the flames, his research enables development of better engines for the future. Although renewable energy technologies are important, into the foreseeable future, combustion will be required to supply the world’s enormous, and growing, energy demands. This is especially true for the transportation sector, where feasible alternatives to liquid fuels are not available to power the aerospace and maritime industries. The research looks at ways of making better use of fossil fuels, but more importantly, how to make sure that renewable fuels can become a viable alternative.

“The capabilities and support offered by eRSA far exceed anything available anywhere else in South Australia.”

“The chemistry involved in combustion is surprisingly complicated – much more complex than the simplified reactions taught in high school textbooks. To accurately calculate what goes on in a flame means solving hundreds of reactions simultaneously, and then coupling that with the chaotic fluid motions in a turbulent flow. This type of work needs serious computing power, only possible with a supercomputer. All of this is required for just one flame; but we want to be able to predict what happens with different fuels and with different operating conditions. Therefore, we need to repeat these calculations lots of times, changing only one parameter at a time. The Nectar Cloud enabled us to take the results from Tizard, and then perform a series of systematic studies.”

To validate the computational models, large volumes of experimental data from comprehensive laser diagnostic experiments are stored on eRSA’s storage.

“From these calculations we now have a much better understanding of the fundamental processes that take place in these flames, including predicting how they will behave under operating conditions that we’ve never tested before. These results give us confidence that we can take testing to the next phase – actually trying some of these flames. We are currently setting up experiments that are getting closer to operating under engine-like conditions. By coupling our vast array of existing data with some real-world tests we will have a complete picture of what is going on. This will enable us to take this technology to new and exciting applications.”

“Modern computers and modelling software investigate new scientific problems in ways only dreamt of in the past. Whilst this doesn’t completely eliminate the need for physical systems and real-world experiments, eRSA greatly reduce the costly, time-consuming process of hands-on experimental work.”

“We collect enough experimental data to validate a model, and then let eRSA’s HPC do the hard work of running systematic studies. From such models we also get access to data that simply is not possible in actual experiments, either because it simply cannot be varied independently in the real world or because it is simply too difficult to measure. However, for these types of computations to be performed, large-scale dedicated supercomputers are needed. It is not practicable for individual research groups to replicate the world-class facilities of eRSA”.

“Throughout all my dealings with eRSA I have found them very helpful and responsive. All the eRSA staff treat problems seriously, and are happy to walk through issues to help resolve them – even if they are user error.”

Want to have a chat with Dr Paul Medwell about his research and tools used? Details below:

Phone 08 8313 5920

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    Associate Professor Con DoolanSchool of Mechanical Engineering, University of Adelaide
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