“Significant progress” on Keele’s €4 million research to develop low carbon combustion technology

A €4 million study led by Keele University to support emerging technology for combustion engines has made “significant progress”.

Professor Maria Heckl, Professor of Engineering Mathematics at Keele, is leading a team of researchers who are addressing the technical challenges of hydrogen combustion.

The Pollution Know-how and Abatement project – POLKA - is looking at how to support emerging technologies that will replace fossil fuels in combustion engines and at low-carbon energy solutions for the engines.

The research is funded by a €4 million grant from Horizon 2020 - the largest European funding programme for research and innovation.

Some 17 education and industry partners are involved in the research from as far afield as Italy, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium and India, as well as the UK.

Combustion of hydrogen from renewable sources is an emerging technology. Traditional combustion engines rely on fossil fuels which release carbon-dioxide when burnt, contributing to rising carbon emissions and climate change. However, when burnt with oxygen, hydrogen is a ‘zero-emissions’ fuel – meaning it only produces heat and water, providing a ‘clean’ energy alternative.

The researchers are 15 months into the 48-month study and have already met to report on their research activities.

Professor Heckl has described the progress they have made so far as “significant”. Some of the findings will be presented at the 27th International Congress on Sound and Vibration, which will take place next year.

Professor Heckl said: “I feel privileged to be guiding a large-scale international research effort which aims to eradicate thermoacoustic problems associated with hydrogen combustion. This is hands-on research that will benefit our planet.”

The goal of POLKA is to create new physical insights and advanced simulation tools to underpin the development of hydrogen-fuelled combustion systems such as gas turbines, aero-engines, boilers and furnaces.

In particular, the project will develop solutions to the technical challenges which are unique to hydrogen combustion: thermoacoustic instabilities and flashback.

Thermoacoustic instabilities are large-amplitude pressure oscillations caused by an escalating interaction between the flame and acoustic waves; they tend to occur unexpectedly and cause major hardware damage. Flashback is the phenomenon of the flame propagating backwards into components not designed for high temperatures.

Detailed information can be found on the POLKA website www.polka-eu.org; this also features open-access training resources, which are being developed as the project develops.

Keele University’s Institute for Sustainable Futures is leading the way in smart and low-carbon energy research, using Keele’s unique campus setting as a ‘living laboratory’ where innovative approaches to low-carbon energy can be trialled.

Key to this is the HyDeploy project, a pioneering hydrogen energy project which aims to reduce UK carbon dioxide emissions through blending hydrogen with natural gas for cooking and heating buildings and homes across the private gas network on Keele University’s campus.

The HyDeploy project is the first UK practical deployment of hydrogen onto a live gas network since the transition from town gas. Successful demonstration of the project has the potential to unlock savings of £8 billion to customers and avoid 120 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.