Engineer Cooks up Recipe for a Pollution-Free Future

A research project at UBC could help reduce harmful emissions - photo by Martin Dee
A research project at UBC could help reduce harmful emissions – photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 11 | Nov. 3, 2005

By Brian Lin (with files from ErinRose Handy)

A UBC mechanical engineer is cooking up a recipe to dramatically reduce harmful vehicle emissions.

Asst. Prof. Martin Davy is launching a new research project intended to reduce harmful vehicle emissions by gradually replacing traditional fuels with blends of natural gas and hydrogen until pure hydrogen with zero harmful emissions can be used.

“Traditional hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and diesel contain a substantial quantity of carbon and produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide,” says Davy. “The more completely theses fuels burn, the more greenhouse-gas emissions are produced.”

Methane — commonly referred to as natural gas — on the other hand, contains approximately half the carbon content compared to traditional fuels, and is at the centre of current fuel cell research aimed at creating vehicles that produce water vapour as their only by-product.

While fuel cell vehicles won’t be a reality for at least another decade, Davy says progressively modifying current internal combustion engines to include methane and other gaseous fuels can reduce greenhouse-gas emission right away.

He is building on research by fellow UBC professor Robert Evans, whose partially-stratified-charge technique allows the use of natural gas in conventional engines to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency. Davy recently received a Canada Foundation for Innovation grant to determine how to best inject methane into the engine — and how much gaseous fuel to throw into the mix.

“We have this fuel soup swirling around with different chemicals. Identifying harmful emissions within this soup is a significant challenge,” says Davy. “However, by using lasers to excite molecules with a burst of energy, we can cause certain of the pollutants to fluoresce. We photograph the reaction to identify where they are in relation to the flame, which helps us determine how well the fuel and air have mixed and how we can optimize the mixing process so the combustion occurs as cleanly as possible.”

Read more about Prof. Davy’s research in the latest issue of Ingenuity, the Faculty of Applied Science newsletter, at