Expertise: Aerodynamics and propulsion, energy conversion and heat transfer, and fluid mechanics.
Research Problem: Enabling the design of advanced combustion systems through models of renewable and clean fuels to contribute to a more sustainable energy economy. Ben Akih-Kumgeh uses experiments and computations to study the physical and chemical processes that occur during energy conversion with a special focus on the combustion behavior of alternative fuels.
SyracuseCoE Connection: Akih-Kumgeh directs Syracuse University’s Thermodynamics and Combustion Lab, located in the lab wing at SyracuseCoE. He designed the lab, which has been operational since December 2014, specifically to accommodate the 10-meter shock tube used in combustion experiments, as well as equipment to investigate flame propagation. SyracuseCoE provided funding that enabled him to purchase a laser used to quantify pollutant formation during combustion events. “Combustion research is not only concerned with engines but also with its effects on the environment. Our location at SyracuseCoE is of great benefit to my students; they can put their research in the broader context of energy and environmental systems,” Akih-Kumgeh says.
The shock tube allows Akih-Kumgeh and his students to create very clean conditions of high temperature and pressure to characterize the ignition behavior of promising fuels. Engines operate at various conditions and the research focuses on how these conditions affect ignition. Physical experiments are used to test and improve mathematical models that can predict ignition behavior under a wide number of conditions, eliminating the need to build expensive experiments to test every condition. “Computational analysis of complex processes like combustion allows you to reduce the amount of time needed to develop or modify a cleaner and more efficient engine,” Akih-Kumgeh says. Akih-Kumgeh’s team is also studying the chemical compounds formed during the combustion process—such as carbon monoxide—including how much remains once the combustion process has finished. “We can quantify and compare the emissions of different fuels with the idea of reducing the emission of carbon monoxide into the environment,” he says.
Lab to Market:
Akih-Kumgeh says the same combustion principles that apply to automobiles, jet engines, and rockets can be applied to boilers and residential furnaces that use natural gas. “If you want to increase the use of biofuels inside these systems, then you need to know how the combustion behavior would change and make sure the emissions from that particular modification are within the required limits,” he says.