• Alex Young

  • Theme:Chemical Energy Converters
  • Project:Investigation of a Novel Pressure-Balanced Free-Piston Engine
  • Supervisor:Chris Brace
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Alex graduated from the University of Bath in 2019 with an MEng (hons) in Integrated Mechanical & Electrical Engineering. Throughout the degree, his passion for internal combustion engines was perpetuated by various courses and projects, especially during his final two years with Team Bath Racing (TBR) - Bath’s ICE Formula Student Team. During his penultimate year, he worked on Engine Simulation and Intake System Design, which he used to optimise the boosting system used on the car. In his final year, he assisted in Engine Mapping whilst designing and manufacturing the wiring harnesses and PCBs for the various control systems on the car. Whilst at competition, he gained valuable insight to the demands of running a race team as he continued to tune the engine and control system set-ups for each event. He hopes to use his passion for ICEs to deliver ground-breaking research as part of the AAPS CDT into futuristic hybrid powertrain systems.

Research Journey: Year 3

​Following on from the PhD confirmation at the end of my second year, I began working on some of the recommendations that were made during my Viva. This led to me taking a deeper dive both into recent literature and textbooks, to ensure that I had a comprehensive understanding of all developments throughout the entire timeline of my field. This allowed me to better understand the previous technological roadblocks that may have impeded progress of certain engine concepts and ideas. This, in combination with an understanding of recent technological advances, led to a conceptualisation phase during which I was able to identify some novel solutions to the aforementioned roadblocks. During this time, I was also attempting to hone down my overarching research aim whilst ensuring that my identified research gap was still valid.

I then began working on the development of a free-piston engine model within GT Power. This proved to be more difficult than initially expected. GT Power requires the use of an Engine block when using the Cylinder block to simulate an Internal Combustion Engine. The Engine block mandates the use of Crankshaft Angle to define Piston positions throughout the simulation. However, in a free-piston engine, there are no crankshafts and the pistons are free to move without constraint in response to the gas dynamics present in the system. Therefore, this presents the challenge of ‘tricking’ the Engine block into thinking that a crankshaft is present whilst overriding the piston motions. Whilst this is possible, it does cause issues when attempting to make sense of the results as it will try to relate things to an engine cycle based on the Crankshaft angle. If the gas dynamics impose piston motions with a different periodic nature to that which the Engine Crankshaft would impose, then great care must be taken to ensure that the results are not misinterpreted. Furthermore, as the resultant forces from the system gas dynamics define the piston motion, this must be calculated at each timestep in order to impose the correct piston position. This can be achieved either within GT Power itself or by co-simulation with another software package, such as MATLAB/Simulink. As this calculation is much easier to implement within the MATLAB/Simulink software package, I have chosen to utilise co-simulation for this. Furthermore, the linear motor/generator will be modelled within MATLAB/Simulink, further emphasising the point of using co-simulation between the two software packages.

Throughout the year, I was able to take on responsibilities and attend many different conferences and workshops which proved invaluable to my educational and personal development. Whilst I continued my assistance in Undergraduate lab sessions, I also orchestrated the new weekly AAPS CDT Research seminars where students were encouraged to attend and present on topics relevant to their research. During January 2022, the AAPS CDT hosted an Integrative Think Tank alongside an industrial partner, Lotus Cars. As a lifelong fan of Lotus Cars, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work alongside them tackling the challenges that the uncertain automotive future may bring. I also attended the Future Propulsion Conference at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham and the High Performance Powertrains Conference held at the Silverstone Circuit, both of which provided informative and intriguing talks and excellent networking opportunities. I was lucky enough to be awarded a studentship and present a poster at the Hydrogen-Based Mobility and Power Conference held by the Clean Combustion Research Centre at King Abdullah’s University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. The few weeks that I spent there were fascinating and facilitated invaluable academic collaboration beneficial to my PhD and beyond. Back in Bath, I was thrilled to be awarded funding through the AAPS CDT International Travel Scheme which will facilitate an academic secondment during which I hope to gather testing data to validate my models.

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