Watch your fuel burning in 3-D

A collaboration between computer scientists and researchers in their labs has lead to some virtual experiments which are improving combustion efficiency by simulating the combustion process with unmatched accuracy. Will it be enough to reduce the cost of filling your tank? Probably not.

You've probably noticed that it costs you more to fill the gas tank of your car than a year ago. There are many reasons for this, but it's important to remember that 85 percent of U.S. energy needs are fueled by combustion, as reminds us Horst Simon, for Scientific Computing. Of course, the number of research projects about combustion at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has increased. So let's look today at how a collaboration between computer scientists and researchers in their labs has lead to some virtual experiments which are improving combustion efficiency by simulating the combustion process with unmatched accuracy. Will it be enough to reduce the cost of filling your tank? Probably not.

Let's start by reading what Horst Simon has to say.

A recent research survey compiled for the DOE noted that 85 percent of U.S. energy needs are fueled by combustion. Interestingly, this process that we take for granted is an extremely complex problem involving chemistry and turbulence in a complicated environment.
Recently, researchers at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (LBNL) Center for Computational Sciences and Engineering (CCSE) and the Environmental Energy Technologies Division created a three-dimensional combustion simulation of unmatched accuracy, a simulation that closely matches conditions found in laboratory combustion experiments.

The author adds that now computer simulations have clearly become "an essential component of scientific discovery," but he probably thought that more than ten years ago -- as well as myself.

Now, let's look at some results. Below is an image of a "simulated instantaneous flame surface, depicted here as an isosurface of the local temperature gradient" (Credit for image and caption: CCSE). You'll find other images and videos on this page at the CCSE.

A simulated instantaneous flame surface

And before returning to our subject "du jour," here is another quote, about the tools we were using thirty years ago to do this kind of simulations.

Progress in combustion science has, to a remarkable degree, coincided with advances in scientific computing. For example, while basic concepts for solving 1-D flat flames originated in the 1950s, it only became possible to solve the 1-D flame equations some 30 years later using 80 MHz Cray-1 supercomputers. Those calculations, which are routine on personal computers today, enabled a renaissance in combustion science by allowing chemists to observe the interrelationships among the many hypothesized reaction processes in the flame.

Back in 2005, this research work has been published by the Processings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) under the name "Numerical simulation of a laboratory-scale turbulent V-flame" (Vol. 102, No. 29, Pages 10006-10011, July 19, 2005). Here are two links to the abstract and to the full paper (PDF format, 17 pages, 2.75 MB), from which the image above was extracted.

Sources: Horst Simon, for Scientific Computing, October 2005; and various web sites

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