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THE CHEMISTRY OF COMBUSTION

WVU chemist studying fuel efficiency and pollutant formation

A West Virginia University chemist is working to improve fuel efficiencies in transportation and power generation.

Fabien Goulay, an associate professor in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry, is investigating combustion reaction mechanisms, which take place in power generators like engines and turbines. 

Fabien Goulay
Fabien Goulay

“Combustion is the transformation of fuel to energy, and it’s important to minimize the emission of harmful chemicals in this process,” Goulay said. “Even in a small candle flame, there are thousands of chemical reactions taking place. To improve the efficiency of combustion, we are trying to understand the chemical reactions involved.”

Goulay’s study will focus on the oxidation of resonance-stabilized radicals, which are large, relatively stable free radicals that accumulate in combustion environments. These play a major role during the formation of pollutants such as soot and other particulate matter.

“The ultimate goal of studying combustion is to make the fuel more efficient,” Goulay said. “It goes together with decreasing pollutant emissions. When you improve efficiency, pollutant emissions will also decrease.”

His experiments will measure the kinetics, or the speed of the chemical reactions, as well as the products of the reactions.

“If we can understand the chemistry of resonance-stabilized radicals, we hope to be able to better control the energy efficiency of combustion and the emission of pollutants,” Goulay said.  

The kinetics experiments will begin in fall 2018, and in spring 2019 a new mass spectrometer will be installed in Goulay’s lab for product detection experiments. Goulay and his research team will also travel to the Advanced Light Source facility in Berkeley, California, to use the synchrotron for additional experiments.

Goulay is supported by a three-year, $462,634 National Science Foundation grant.  

“This grant is excellent news for the Goulay research team and for all those who benefit from (Goulay’s) broad contributions in research, teaching and service,” said Gregory Dudley, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “(Goulay) is doing great work within and beyond our University.”  

Zachary Donnellan
Zachery Donnellan

The NSF grant also provides training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, including first-generation college students and students from the Appalachian region, who have been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.

Junior chemistry student Zachery Donnellan is working as a research assistant on the s tudy.

“In chemistry, my two favorite areas to study deal with radical mechanisms and ring expansion reaction. On this project, we will react two radicals together, which is a very exciting and new process for me,” said Donnellan, a first-generation student from Madison, West Virginia. “In my career I hope to continue doing research, so all experience I can acquire will help prepare me for the future.”