EPSRC DTP PhD studentship: Novel approaches for biomass fuelled engines

University of Exeter - College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

Main supervisor: Dr Xiaoyu Yan (University of Exeter)
Co-supervisor: Dr Justin Hinshelwood (University of Exeter)

The project will focus on the thermodynamic analysis and material development in relation to novel wood-chip engine technology. It will extend knowledge and understanding in relation to biomass fuelled engines and in particular a novel rotary expander made available by Zennor Engine Development Company Ltd, (http://zennorphoenix.org.uk/). This innovative expander has potential for use in a range of applications but has been specifically designed to be used with wood-chip fuels. As such, this proposal is for a 21st century approach to solid biomass as a fuel for engine applications. Historically vehicles ran on wood in WWII and there is a current small revival in gasifiers with internal combustion engines. Disadvantages include thermal inefficiency of cooling gases before the engine in the two stage process, as well as problems with tar and bulky equipment. 

Rankine cycle steam engines with piston cylinders need oil lubrication which can cause problems with contaminating the water and therefore the condenser. The project will examine the use of appropriate thermodynamic cycles (such as the Anderson compression-condensing cycle), the development of novel combustor and novel engine designs and the consideration of appropriate engine applications to improve the potential and feasibility of biomass fuelled engines. The potential of hyperbaric combustors for use in a parallel compound Brayton-Rankine or Cheng cycle for better efficiency and providing a way to use green / wet biomass as an engine fuel will also be explored.

Although wood fuelled engines may seem an odd approach in the UK with low levels of woodland cover, certain applications are more suited for early adoption of the technology. There is potential for huge growth in Asia and areas of world with abundant biomass. The small scale of the associated technology makes it suitable for localised settings and applications as larger scale biomass solutions may be less feasible due to the need to transport biomass over significant distances. Combustor units could have a range of applications such as vehicle transport, small scale static power and micro-scale CHP units. These technologies would provide access to predictable and reliable renewable energy and clean transportation could enable the electrification of remote communities via biomass. This would result in significant economic and social benefits in remote areas and developing countries, but also wherever there was access to available biomass fuel and a need for reliable power or transport. 

The student in this project will be responsible for a thermodynamic analysis, design and performance testing of prototypes. There will be realistic opportunities for the student to develop their own knowledge and skills and there will be significant potential to develop the knowledge base in relation to biomass fuelled engines and to impact in this field. 

3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,296 per year.

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South West England