ARL project: Better mileage, more power through supercomputing

Researchers working under an award from DOD's Frontier Project will tap a billion hours of supercomputing time to study—and improve—engine performance.

The Defense Department, which uses more energy than any other organization in the world, has put a lot of effort into cutting its consumption in recent years, turning to large solar arrays and wind turbines to help power bases, and has set a goal of using renewable sources for 25 percent of its energy by 2025.

Army researchers are now working on another front, with a fine-grained, supercomputer-driven study of how internal combustion engines work, a study they hope will both boost power and increase fuel economy in the next generation of engines.

The Army Research Laboratory recently received a $500,000 award to conduct the research from the Defense Department’s Frontier Project, which includes access to 1 billion hours of supercomputing time on some of the world’s fastest machines, ARL said in a release.

Researchers from ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate and Iowa State University started Oct. 1 studying the mixture formation process in engine cylinders at a level of complexity never done before and expect that the research could lead to “quantum leaps” in efficiency, ARL said.

In an internal combustion engine, fuel mixes with an oxidizer—usually air—in a combustion chamber to power the engine components. How the fuel and oxidizer mix determines how efficient the engine is. And although internal combustion engines have been around a long time and have seen improvements, researchers said there currently is no scientific consensus on the “turbulent spray atomization process” involved. Running predictive simulations of what is a complex physics process can provide rare insights, and that’s where the supercomputing access comes in.

“For calculations to be extremely precise requires access to massively parallel computing platforms with millions of hours of computing time," Dr. Luis Bravo, a mechanical engineer specializing in computational and thermal sciences and the principal investigator in ARL's FRONTIER project, said in the release. “This approach will accelerate the development of next-generation internal combustion engines for aerial and ground combat vehicle applications and will feature significant increases in fuel economy and power densities."

DOD’s Frontier Project is part of its High Performance Computing Modernization Program, and looks to aid scientific discovery and technological innovation by awarding grants and supercomputing time to multidisciplinary teams. Launched last year, the program has also made awards to teams led by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, working for the Office of Naval Research. Projects funded by Frontier are generally expected to last three to five years.

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