Stanley Ling—Developing a Tool for Fuel Efficiency

June 25, 2020
The CAREER award from the National Science Foundation is the most prestigious honor the organization presents to young researchers, providing significant funding to advance the recipient’s research and educational objectives. These highly-competitive awards are presented to a select group of scholars who, as the NSF explains, “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” This spring, Baylor University faculty earned a school record four NSF CAREER awards. Meet one such researcher below or click here to learn about other 2020 Baylor recipients.

Once injected into an engine, liquid fuel begins to break into small pieces. These droplets form a spray that mixes with air, vaporizes and powers the engine. It’s not something most people think about, but sprays play an important role in the efficiency of a variety of combustion engines—and it’s a factor that matters to engineers.

Stanley Ling, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor, has won an National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Grant to study spray and to pioneer understanding of these complicated conditions through rigorous modeling and high-powered computing. The end result of his research will be fuel injection systems that are more efficient and create less pollution.

Build a Better Program

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century essayist, is famous for the phrase, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” Dr. Ling’s approach is to empower others to build better systems.

Rather than building a better fuel injection system or engine, Ling, seeks to de-mystify the variables and equations that could provide engineers with insight into the ways fuel and air interplay to power the engine. Such a program would require a more comprehensive grasp of the myriad spray variables that take place once the fuel is injected. These variables, impacting the size, distribution, binding and dynamic characteristics, are vast and little understood, but impact the way fuel burns, the efficiency in which it powers the engine and the pollution created.

“The good news is that the energy channels for the motion of the fuel, the air, and how they mix together are analyzed by a set of equations,” Ling said. “However, the equations are very difficult to solve. It requires a super computer and numeric coding. We aim to create never-developed methods to test and model spray formation, and create an efficient software to give to engineers and researchers—a powerful tool to tackle these problems.”

Engineers need precision for what seems imprecise. Many factors in a combustion engine can change droplet size distribution—temperature, design, velocity fluctuations and more. To this point, no one has created comprehensive understanding on the matter. Part of the reason why represents another side of the challenge: to do the number of simulations necessary to understand the variables requires tides of data, countless models, and lots of money—factors beyond the scope of most designers to harness.

In Ling’s lab, the Computational Thermo-Fluid Laboratory, he will utilize his NSF grant, first, to begin that modeling, then to create an application that harnesses the insights that modeling delivers, in a package that requires less computer power and is more affordable than anything currently available—a tool for engineers around the world to use to build greater efficiency and less pollution, one design at a time.

Baylor Supercomputing

Towards that end, Ling utilizes the power of high-performance computing at Baylor. His data is a regular guest within Baylor’s supercomputer, Kodiak. There, rigorous calculations and simulations utilize thousands of CPUs needed to develop models accounting for spray variables, and a process used in video games is an important tool.

“A very important, innovative idea in this project is that we use something called skeletonization to look at a spray,” Ling said. “In video games, people have used what they call a skeleton, in presentation, for complicated 3D objects. For example, with a human body, we try to get only the skeleton of a very abstract presentation for a simplified model. A spray contains very complicated liquid structures, so for a spray, we use the same idea—to get a skeleton of it and then model the physical process space on that skeleton. That is how we strive for the solid simulation data, and that's why we need a super computer.”

Through skeletonization and repeated simulations, Ling seeks to develop the 3D models necessary to understand the comprehensive array of ways spray behaves inside a system. As he does so, he’s utilizing computing power he hopes to save for future engineers, cutting the amount of energy they need to address these challenges.

“With this advanced understanding of droplets, we will use these methods to develop a software that is both powerful and efficient—complex enough to provide the detail they need, but without requiring the computing power currently necessary.”

A further educational component of the grant will help spark an interest in engineering for young people through the creation of resources like a summer science camp for children in grades 7 through 12, particularly welcoming to those with physical limitations.

Benchmarks for Mechanical Engineering and Baylor’s Research Vision

Dr. Ling’s CAREER award comes at a highly-decorated time in Baylor research. Four professors earned CAREER awards this spring—the most in a year in school history. It also represents a hallmark for Baylor Mechanical Engineering—it’s the first CAREER award in the division within the School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“I’m very thankful for the support of the School of Engineering and Computer Science,” Ling said. “They provided me with all the research resources and facilities I need, as well as student support so that I could get the preliminary data to launch the CAREER award. At the same time, this is also very important to our school as it is the first for Mechanical Engineering. Across Baylor, there’s an environment in which everyone works together and pursues each other’s shared success. That, along with our Christian values and pursuit of becoming a Christian research university make Baylor so unique.”

Awards like Ling’s CAREER Award further demonstrate Baylor’s intentional pursuit of research preeminence, as spelled out in Illuminate, the University’s strategic vision.

“The recent increase in the number of CAREER award winners clearly demonstrates that we are hiring well in a variety of disciplines, and we are building a strong foundation for future success and sustainability of our research enterprise,” Kevin Chambliss, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Research, said. “ I fully expect that the success of this year’s CAREER award winners will increase our ability to recruit top talent in the future, which will further accelerate our progress toward R1.”
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