Researchers ask burning questions on the future of fuels

Posted on: 30 July 2018

Researchers from Trinity and NUI Galway recently hosted the largest ever convening of the most important scientific conference on alternative fuels, fuel efficiency and fires. The occasion marked the first time the biennial symposium had been held in Ireland.

Assistant Professor in Physics at Trinity, Stephen Dooley, partnered with Emeritus Professor John Simmie (Chemistry) and Dr Rory Monaghan (Engineering & Ryan Institute) from NUI Galway to form the local host team for the 37th International Symposium on Combustion. Over 1,800 delegates from across the globe attended the technical presentations in the Convention Centre Dublin.

Pictured (left to right) are: the local host team, Dr Rory Monaghan, Department of Mechanical Engineering, NUIG, Professor John Simmie, School of Chemistry, NUIG, and Professor Stephen Dooley, School of Physics, Trinity.

Over 90% of the energy used in Ireland is delivered by burning fuels, the vast majority of which is imported. This energy is needed for everything from lighting and heating our homes and preparing our meals, to powering our industries and fuelling our planes, trains and automobiles. The immediate challenges posed by climate change, declining air quality, increasing energy bills, and energy supply security, especially with Brexit around the corner, means that cleaner, cheaper, more reliable forms of energy are urgently needed.

Professor Dooley said: “Combustion accounts for approximately 90% of the world’s energy utilisation, and is a very significant contributor to climate change. The 37th International Symposium on Combustion focused members of the international research community on how humanity can affordably diversify away from fossil fuel energy sources, and dramatically improve the efficiency of the combustion processes, such that much less carbon dioxide is produced.”

“Through their research contributions, which culminated in the arranging of this major conference, Ireland and Trinity are emerging as international leaders in resolving global environmental and societal issues in energy-climate change.”

The symposium highlighted recent advances in the development and testing of renewable fuels including biomass, biomethane, liquid biofuels and hydrogen; use of waste products like agri-forestry wastes, sludges and municipal waste as fuels; efforts to reduce harmful emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter; increases in engine efficiency through a better understanding of how existing and new fuels burn and how engines can be redesigned around this new knowledge.

The symposium also dealt with the study of how fires spread, what can be done to better predict this, and how emergency planning and evacuations can be improved. This was thrown into tragic light last year in Grenfell Tower and this summer in Greece and California.

The importance of combustion research was recently highlighted by the launch of the €4.4-million Sustainable Energy and Fuel Efficiency (SEFE) ‘spoke’ at the Research Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy. With financial backing from Science Foundation Ireland and national and international industry, SEFE researchers at Trinity, NUI Galway, UCC, UL and Teagasc will develop the next generation of renewable fuels and cleaner engines.

The hosting of the symposium in Ireland was particularly timely given the recent announcement from the Climate Change Advisory Council that the country is “completely off course” to achieve its 2020 and 2030 climate targets. This event thus served as a rallying call to the energy research and policy-making communities that unless Ireland takes immediate action on the development alternative fuels, the country is in line for hundreds of millions of Euros worth of annual fines from the EU.

Chairperson of the local host team, Emeritus Professor at NUI Galway, John Simmie, said: “Given society’s heavy reliance on fuels, combustion is more relevant now than ever. While the recent popularity of electric vehicles is to be welcomed, technological limitations and high costs mean that all energy forecasts show significant combustible fuel use until well into the second half of the 21st century, especially for heavy, long-distance transportation.”

Head of Strategy at Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Peter Clifford, highlighted the scientific excellence of the event, saying: “The International Symposium on Combustion is the premier gathering of the fuels and combustion research community. Its presence here underscores the efforts and growing reputation of the combustion research community in Ireland.”

The Symposium was supported financially by Science Foundation Ireland through the Exceptional Conference Award, Fáilte Ireland, and a wide array of Irish and international industry sponsors.

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