Faculty Lecture: "Combustion Research in Times of Climate Change"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 - 4:00pm
3110 Etcheverry Hall
Professor R. W. Dibble

Department of Mechanical Engineering

University of California, Berkeley


Professor Dibble, a Cal graduate (1971) and Cal faculty member from 1990, attended high school in Las Vegas Nevada in the 1960's, where air quality was not an issue. However, school trips to Los Angles were memorable as the air quality there was so poor. A task of combustion research over the next 40 years was to clean up the urban air. That clean up was largely accomplished by steadily increasing regulation on urban pollutants from power plants and by demanding that cars have a three-way catalyst, with “smog checks” required. Now, the air in LA is “clearly” better, even though there are 3–4 times as many cars on the commute. The recent urgency regarding the threats of Climate Change is now forcing legislation to limit emissions of the global pollutant, CO2, and technology is also playing a role. However, because the prospect of economically obtaining a zero-carbon-emission combustion of fossil fuels remains tenuous, the best thing to do with fossil fuels may be to leave them in the ground and electrify as much as possible. For those applications that really do need a high-energy-density fuel, making that fuel carbon neutral would seem to be easier than making the combustion products carbon neutral. Toward that end, one emerging idea is power generation that has less and less exhaust. One such engine is Berkeley’s patented Argon Power Cycle, in which Argon gas is used as working fluid instead of air; more recently, a new cycle has emerged that uses CO2 as the working fluid. Both cycles can create streams of CO2 that can stored and be used, for example, for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) during which more CO2 molecules are put into the earth than carbon atoms (petroleum) are brought out of the earth. In this way, EOR-fossil fuels can be CO2 negative, which would make them greener than biofuels.


Professor Dibble is the principal investigator of the Combustion Analysis group. His main area of research is the internal combustion engine. He is also the leading scientist behind the development of the Argon Power Cycle technology.