-By Sonia Turosienski, KAUST News
Just four years after its official inauguration, the KAUST Clean Combustion Research Center (CCRC) has established itself as a leading global hub for combustion research. In a rapidly changing economic and energy landscape, the CCRC has settled into a unique role—the development of expertise on how fuels and combustion can be more efficient, clean and economical.
Due to the high-pressure and high-temperature environments required, experimental combustion research is an expensive and physically difficult endeavor. As a result of these barriers to entry and an increased global focus on renewable energy, many centers and research groups around the world have focused less on experimental fuels and combustion research.
Despite renewable energy technologies becoming more competitively priced and technically developed, William Roberts, director of the CCRC and KAUST professor of mechanical engineering, explained that combustion research is—contrary to what some may say—a growing field with a lot of work to be done.
"We're firmly convinced that internal combustion engines are going to be around for the next 30 to 40 years," Roberts said.
While the shift to renewables is the natural next step, there is a role for hydrocarbons to play in energy storage and for a liquid-based, clean, sustainable and efficient fuel to be developed and introduced into the existing distribution network for example.
The CCRC has led the way by building groundbreaking facilities; recruiting leading researchers and faculty; and creating strong industrial partnerships, such as the 10-year FUELCOM project with Saudi Aramco.
The extensive and highly specialized facilities at KAUST make it possible to test computations and computer simulations in the physical world. The center hosts six—and soon to be seven—laboratories, each with a specific focus area, such as laser diagnostics or plasma assisted fuel reforming. In addition to the state-of-the-art facilities, the center is also one of the biggest users of the KAUST supercomputer Shaheen.
With great resources comes great responsibility
Extensive resources have not come without additional pressure to perform and responsibility to innovate and explore. Roberts reflected, "It's gratifying to see we are meeting our potential."
In 2013, the CCRC introduced a cloud-based cyberinfrastructure, CloudFlame, for managing combustion research and enabling collaborations in order to aid data sharing and promote collaboration. The center keeps careful analogs of the simulations carried out at each scale. With nine faculty members and over 150 people, the center's research is broad and as such, collaboration across research groups is key.