Bart Somers: “The combustion engine still has life”

Bart Somers is an associate professor in the Power & Flow department of the mechanical engineering department and also affiliated with the EIRES energy institute. A scalable combustion engine using sustainable fuels is critically important for the transportation sector, says Somers, where electrification is not yet an option due to the size and weight of batteries required. Think heavy trucks, ships and planes.

But in the short term, regular passenger cars with conventional internal combustion engines could also benefit from more sustainable fuel.

“At the moment we are betting way too much on one horse in the Netherlands. We simply cannot afford not to do everything we can to reduce CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions as quickly as possible. We really can’t wait for everything to be electrified,” says Somers.


Researcher has high expectations for low-CO alternative fuels2 carbon footprint, such as second and third generation biofuels, hydrogen and so-called electronic fuels. E-fuels are artificial fuels made by synthesizing H2 and sustainably produced CO2 or N2. Think methanol and ammonia.

Burning these fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible is no easy task, Somers says. To do this, his team uses mathematical models, test engines, lasers and cameras to understand exactly how combustion works. “The burning process is extremely short, no more than 2 milliseconds. To be able to film this, we need very fast cameras, with hundreds of thousands of frames per second.

Listen to the podcast

In this episode of our Sound of Science science podcast, you can learn all about Bart Somers’ research, including why fuel sometimes smells like strawberries….

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Kevin A. Perras