Epaminondas Mastorakos is a CoEC team leader and Hopkinson/ICI Professor of Applied Thermodynamics at University of Cambridge. His research focuses on reacting fluid mechanics, combustion, energy systems, multiphase flows, Computational Fluid Dynamics, ventilation, and numerical and experimental work. He is also experienced in energy, gas turbine combustion and fuels. He teaches thermofluids and energy-related topics, and especially turbulent flows. Learn more about him and his work in this interview.
I believe that combustion science can help produce novel propulsion and energy technologies. And it is not only the new fuels – it is also battery fires, wildfires, material synthesis and other problems that fall within our remit. We can play a major role in changing the world for the better.
Prof. Mastorakos, what are your team’s main tasks in the CoEC project?
To develop fast and accurate computational methods for simulating pollutant production such as soot and NOx emitted by synthetic hydrocarbons, ammonia, and hydrogen, which seem to be the key fuels in a low-carbon future. Then, to apply them to some realistic problems that will demonstrate their usefulness for industry.
What stage of implementation are you at?
We finished with the theoretical developments and now working on faster chemistry solvers. The interactions with the other partners in CoEC are vital in this respect, as each brings along different expertise and approaches.
What are the main challenges? Which part of the project do you think will be the most difficult?
Accuracy is often compromised for fast execution. CoEC tries to keep the equations difficult and challenging, and therefore most promising to catch difficult fuels and combustion phenomena but aims to come up with new algorithms that enable the efficient solution of these equations. This will allow the simulation of complex problems that are faced by engineers designing novel zero-carbon technologies.
Are you satisfied or maybe inspired by the fact that this project can solve many important problems related to air pollution and climate change? How does it feel when you work with this project for cleaner air in the planet?
One of my favourite quotes is from the oceanographer Jean-Jacques-Cousteau who said: “Air and water, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans”. We have also been throwing copious CO2 to the atmosphere for decades. We not only have local air quality problems due to the NOx and soot, but also life-threatening climate change. I strongly believe that combustion science can come to the rescue and help produce novel propulsion and energy technologies. And it is not only the new fuels – it is also battery fires, wildfires, material synthesis and other problems that fall within our remit. Hence, we can play a major role in changing the world for the better.
What would you be if you were not a researcher?
Never had the time to really think about this! How about a farmer (but, please, without the bad days and the heavy work since dawn)?
Many young people find science difficult. What would you tell them? What advice do you have for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?
I hope young people follow their own path. Science is wonderful because it is based on rules that are not negotiable or determined by who happens to be the most powerful. It can be incredibly rewarding and productive.
What do you dream about?
A world with the energy and empathy of James T. Kirk and the intellect and integrity of Mr. Spock.