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Cover of the Winter 2008 issue


VOL. 34, NO. 2





Research relationship drives
combustion-engine improvements

Ryan Butts, Chad Koci, Professor David Foster, Ryan Williams and Jon Burton

From left: Ryan Butts, Chad Koci, Professor David Foster, Ryan Williams and Jon Burton run tests on an engine in the GM-ERC Collaborative Research Laboratory. (large image)

A partnership between the UW-Madison Engine Research Center (ERC) and automaker General Motors aims to develop cleaner, more fuel-efficient combustion engines. With alternatives that could significantly displace conventional transportation powerplants and energy carriers decades away, improvements integrated into combustion engines now will have a cumulative benefit—significantly reducing fuel consumption, air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions while alternative energies establish a foothold in the market. University researchers and General Motors representatives founded the GM-ERC Collaborative Research Laboratory (CRL) to advance new combustion technologies through development and application of advanced experimental diagnostics and simulation tools.

With the advent of new diagnostic tools capable of monitoring in-engine conditions and simulations able to accurately describe these fundamentals, CRL researchers can re-examine the fundamental principles of combustion and push them to their limits.

Computer simulation results

Detailed results from the large-scale computer simulation for the operating condition producing minimum CO. The simulation results show fuel, oxygen, temperature and CO distributions within the cylinder for different crank angles. Also shown in the far right hand column are the velocity vectors, so the fluid mechanic mixing patterns within the cylinder can be seen. (large image)

“UW-Madison is uniquely positioned for this because of our experimental and computational capabilities,” says Phil and Jean Myers Professor David Foster, co-director of the GM-ERC CRL. “We’re pushing the limit of understanding and technology, which will enable incorporation of these new combustion and aftertreatment systems products for the mass market.”

For example, for their large-scale computer simulations, ERC researchers use software that integrates the details of turbulent chemistry, heat transfer and fluid mechanics to allow researchers to better understand the details of the engine and combustion processes. When combined with ERC experimental work, the analytical software can provide new insights critical to the development of cleaner, more fuel-efficient engines.

“If we can improve the fuel economy 1 percent, 2 percent, even 5 percent, while still meeting increasingly stringent emission standards, and then integrate that over 17 million vehicles a year for 50 years, that&8217;s a significant reduction in fuel consumption and environmental impact,” says Foster. “It’s really important to continue to do this incremental development. We are looking practically at the future”

In its five areas of research, the CRL uses its unique capabilities to address current issues in the engine industry. One area of research involves “after-treatment,” or cleaning exhaust after it leaves the engine through the use of catalytic converters and filters. This process works in tandem with the engine, and the CRL is developing analysis software capable of modeling the engine and after-treatment as a system.

Among other CRL projects are low-emission, high-efficiency combustion schemes for gasoline and diesel fuels; computer simulations of low-temperature diesel combustion; improved fluid-dynamics models for turbulence and combustion modeling; and increased understanding of near-nozzle spray processes.

Through the CRL, General Motors and the Engine Research Center have been able to address the differences in culture between academia and industry and forge a mutually beneficial research relationship, says Foster. GM researchers and the ERC students and staff interact and exchange ideas through web conferences and frequent visits, and students have opportunities to conduct their research at the GM Research & Development Center. “We are able to put our students thesis work into a context where we can address issues that are relevant to a company like GM,” says Foster. “It’s a tremendous experience all around.”

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