Mechanical Engineering


Charity donation to fuel search for clean, sustainable energy

1 August 2022

A charitable gift of £400,000 has been made to the research group led by UCL Mechanical Engineering’s Dr Paul Hellier.

Dr Paul Hellier

Dr Hellier and his group’s research focuses on the development and testing of renewable fuels, including advanced biofuels, particularly for difficult to decarbonise transport sectors.

The donation is earmarked to support and transform the research efforts of the group’s PhD cohort over the next five years. This support will include funding for new state-of-the-art equipment to assist in the search for alternatives to current hydrocarbon fuels used in transport. This includes, for example, facilitating the real-time measurement of the combustion reactions of renewable fuels leading to energy release and emission formation in practical engines.

Now an Associate Professor in Engines and Fuels at UCL Engineering, Dr Hellier’s own previous PhD research into future fuels at UCL, was partially supported by similar donations.

In the effort to decarbonise future transport, researchers and industry are now mindful of sustainability across the whole of the renewable fuel production and usage lifecycle. Research in this field must consider potential wider impacts on public health and the environment, for example in utilising waste biomass as a feedstock for sustainable biofuels, to avoid competing with food production.

Dr Paul Hellier with a PhD student

Dr Hellier explained, “We are now exploring renewable fuels that are very different in composition and source to those used previously and which are needed in the very near term. There's a lot of understanding that is missing about how these new fuels ignite to release energy and how they form pollutants, information which is vital to ensuring that they are as clean as possible while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Diverting biological wastes to produce fuels has great potential, as do literal zero-carbon fuels. In our research, we are actively expanding the range of materials that are possible fuels for propulsion and power, for example liquid compounds from lignocellulosic biomass and aqueous ammonia solutions for shipping.

This amazingly kind gift will see us expand and innovate further in experimental techniques that will allow us to see what's happening during the course of combustion. Working with PhD researchers to make links on the molecular level between fuel composition and the chemical reactions that occur during combustion is an incredibly exciting opportunity to design genuinely sustainable future fuels. The use of new fuels in engines is likely to also result in the production of different levels or types of pollutants. This support will help us identify these pollutants and understand how they are formed, insight necessary for developing both new fuels and future regulations that protect human health.”

Dr Paul Hellier with a PhD student

Commenting on the research-earmarked donation, Professor Yiannis Ventikos, Head of Department at UCL Mechanical Engineering said,

"We are incredibly grateful to see such a generous gift supporting our PhD researchers in the urgent task of developing renewable fuels for the decarbonisation of transport. Charitable donations such as these are a fantastic opportunity to push at the limits of scientific understanding while training the next generation of academics and research leaders. I have no doubt that Dr Hellier and his team will put this gift to excellent use in their pursuit of sustainable, clean burning future fuels."