This past August, AE Arthur B. Modine Professor Jim Driscoll was appointed President of the international Combustion Institute. A non-profit organization comprised of 35 sections spanning Europa, Asia, Australia and the Americas, the Combustion Institute has a total membership of 6,000 scientists and engineers. Below, Dr. Driscoll describes the relevance of his research:
The research results of the Institute have far-reaching and diverse societal benefits. Take the study of nanoparticles, for example. Flames are used to create many types of new nanoparticles. Some of those new nanoparticles are used in modern medical technologies that diagnose illnesses. Other flame-generated nanoparticles are used as critical additives to computer chips and everyday household items. The ways that combustion research that has led to new types of nanoparticles was discussed recently by Prof. Pratsinis of ETH Zürich, Switzerland, at the 36th International Symposium on Combustion in Seoul, Korea.
Even for those of us not working with nanoparticles on a daily basis, combustion science has had immediate daily impacts on one ubiquitous item: cars. We all have benefited from the significant decrease in automobile pollutant levels over the past decades, in part due to advances in combustion research. Nitric oxide emissions from automobiles, which cause smog, have decreased by a factor of 45 since 1975. Individuals usually can no longer see (or smell) soot or aromatic emissions from buses and airplanes, which is attributable, in part, to advancements in combustion research.
Of notable future promise, combustion science will be central to the development of new energy sources that produce a low carbon footprint. At one of our recent meetings, Prof. Derek Dunn-Rankin, University of California, Irvine, United States, discussed the enormous amount of clean-burning natural gas that is trapped within methane hydrate rocks under the ocean. Researchers are currently exploring options for extracting energy from this resource. Some combustion scientists are developing ways to generate electricity from carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen, or from fuels with a low carbon content such as syngas. Perhaps someday all of the cars in the world’s major cities will run on electricity provided by remote power generators that utilize clean-burning fuels!
Other members of our institute are working on the life-threatening problems associated with wildfires and urban fires. Computer models that predict fire spread are continuously advancing. That research is used in conjunction with sensors, weather information, and cellular technology to develop ways to rapidly direct entire populations of people away from a fire’s path in various environments.
Science is continuing to help improve our lives, and most of the energy that we use today comes from combustion. The Combustion Institute is disseminating scientific information on how to best conserve energy, to reduce pollutants, and to utilize new energy sources.