A Clean Burn for a Brighter Future

10 May 2022

UC Mechanical Engineering PhD candidate Tao Cai advances research in ammonia-air combustion performance with dimethyl ether

  • Tao Cai - A Clean Burn for a Brighter Future

The UC Mechanical Engineering Department is thrilled to announce the recent published paper of PhD candidate Tao Cai and Professor Dan Zhao, Enhancing and assessing ammonia-air combustion performance by blending with dimethyl ether in the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews Journal.

A concerted effort is necessary across varying fields of industry to help address the global climate crisis and associated reduced carbon emissions initiatives set forth by the Paris Agreement. This has led researchers into exploring alternative fuel sources with ammonia as a promising replacement solution for traditionally used fossil fuels. Ammonia’s potential relates to its practicality concerning large-scale transportation and storage, especially when compared to fuel alternatives such as Hydrogen. Furthermore, this fuel source has sustainable properties with recent developments being explored in generating ammonia through wind and solar energy.

While ammonia on its surface has some clear advantages as a potential fuel replacement, it is hindered by its low laminar burning velocity when compared to conventional hydrocarbon fuels. To address this Tao has built on previous research that investigated the benefits of ammonia-based fuel mixtures including but not limited to the addition of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, and alternative fuel alcohols such as methanol and ethanol. This has ultimately led Tao to focus his research into the validity of an ammonia/dimethyl ether fuel blend scheme. The benefits of this enhancement mechanism can be observed given dimethyl ether’s excellent combustion performance and low production cost.

Speaking to Tao, he had this to say, “In this research I have done some preliminary studies in how to improve the low laminar flame speed of ammonia rendering some fantastic results. From our simulations we found with a blended dimethyl ether ratio of 0.5, the laminar flame velocity was measured to be quite high and comparable to a natural gas mixture. This means this type of fuel could be practical in some combustion applications.”

As a substitute fuel in reducing carbon emissions, the value of ammonia appears to be explosive. However, there are still issues of Nitrogen Oxide as a byproduct when using this resource. Tao elaborates, “These are the issues we need to tackle, and my research mainly falls on improving the low laminar flame speed and minimizing Nitrogen Oxide emissions. That is what I am currently working on.”  

With six months left in the PhD lifecycle, Tao aspires to be a future lecturer at a university in his home country of China. We present our sincerest wishes of fortune towards Tao and his forthcoming research in this field.

Natalia Kabaliuk

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