DOE announces 8 Co-Optima initiative awards

By Erin Voegele | January 06, 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced plans to award $7 million to eight universities under the Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines (Co-Optima) initiative to accelerate the introduction of affordable, scalable and sustainable high-performance fuels for use in high-efficiency, low-emission engines.

According to the DOE, the initiative takes a three-pronged, integrated approach to identifying and developing engines designed to run more efficiently on sustainable fuels; fuels designs to work in high-efficiency, low-emissions engines; and marketplace strategies that can share the success of new fuels and vehicle technologies.

The DOE opened an application period for the Co-Optima initiative last year. Eligibility was restricted to U.S. institutions of higher education and nonprofit research institutions that operate as a division under U.S. institutions of higher education. 

Information released by the DOE in explains that the Co-Optima initiative is a collaboration between the DOE, nine national laboratories and industry. In August, the DOE said projects selected for funding will complement this ongoing DOE national laboratory project and support the broader initiative. The DOE said the national laboratory project includes two parallel research thrusts. The first aims to improve near-term conventional spark-ignition engine efficiency. The second aims to enable the full operability of advanced compression ignition engines. “The research cycle for each thrust includes identifying fuel candidates, understanding their characteristics and combustion performance, and determining market-transformation requirements—such as cost, GHG reduction, feedstock requirements, scalability, and infrastructure compatibility—while actively engaging with stakeholders and future collaborators,” said the DOE in a press release.

Awards made under the funding opportunity include:

Cornell University (Ithaca, New York): Cornell University, in partnership with the University of California, San Diego, will examine the combustion characteristics of several diesel/biofuel blends. This will provide the information needed to understand how these blends burn compared to traditional petroleum-based fuels to help design cleaner, more efficient combustion engines.

University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan): The University of Michigan will develop an engine combustion model using software that is capable of simulating a range of different parameters that could occur in a combustion chamber, such as combustion duration, flame speed, and pressure development. The system will be designed to maximize ease of use, reliability and accuracy, as well as to reduce the expense of a full engine cycle simulation by 80% relative to the current state of the art. The data gained from the model can help maximize alternative fuel performance and will be used to guide engine manufacturers.

University of Michigan-Dearborn (Dearborn, Michigan): The University of Michigan-Dearborn, with partner Oakland University, will use a miniature ignition screening rapid compression machine—an experimental apparatus used to study ignition properties—to gain a better understanding of the ignition and combustion characteristics (e.g., ignition delay) of alternative fuels. This novel method streamlines the evaluation of auto-ignition performance without the need for more extensive and costly engine testing.

University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Alabama): The University of Alabama will examine the combustion properties of biofuels and blends using advanced diagnostic techniques under realistic advanced compression ignition (ACI) engine conditions. ACI engines can deliver both high efficiencies and low emissions. The goal is to create a model to predict combustion properties of various fuel blends to help optimize its use in ACI engines.

Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, Louisiana): Louisiana State University, along with partners Texas A&M and University of Connecticut, will develop a method that efficiently characterizes alternative fuel candidates along with associated models and metrics for predicted engine performance. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts): Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in partnership with University of Central Florida, will develop detailed kinetic models for several biofuels using an advanced computational approach. The project will construct computer models to predict the combustion chemistry of proposed biofuels, which can then be used to determine which of the proposed fuels will have high performance in advanced engines.

Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut): Yale University, along with the Pennsylvania State University, will measure sooting tendencies of various biofuels and develop emission indices relevant to real engines. This will enable the selection of biomass-derived fuels that minimize soot emissions in next generation engines.

University of Central Florida (Orlando, Florida): The University of Central Florida will generate fuel characterization data by measuring and evaluating important performance metrics like fuel spray atomization, flame topology, volatility, viscosity, soot/coking, and compatibility for prioritized fuels. The research will characterize and predict combustion properties of biomass‐based, low-emission fuels and blends in engine‐relevant conditions.