Bart Somers: "The combustion engine still has life in it"

August 4, 2022

Energy researcher Bart Somers talks to Lieven Scheire about the green future of the internal combustion engine.

Bart Somers
Bart Somers

Many people associate the internal combustion engine with diesel fumes, obsolete industries and CO2 emissions. They are wong, says Bart Somers. In the latest episode of our Dutch-language podcast series Sound of Science, the researcher explains why the combustion engine does have a sustainable future. And he explains why discarded fat from french fries can become a veritable goldmine for Belgium. Something host Lieven Scheire is very interested in.

Bart Somers is associate professor in the Power & Flow department of the department of Mechanical Engineering and also affiliated with energy institute EIRES. A future-proof combustion engine using sustainable fuels is of key importance for the transport sector, says Somers, where electrification is not yet an option due to the size and weight of the batteries that are needed. Think of heavy trucks, ships and aircraft.

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

"At the moment we are betting far too much on one horse in the Netherlands. We simply cannot afford not to pull out all the stops to reduce CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions as quickly as possible. We really can't wait until everything is electrified," says Somers.


The researcher has high expectations of alternative fuels with a low CO2 footprint, such as second- and third-generation biofuels, hydrogen and the so-called e-fuels. E-fuels are artificial fuels made by synthesizing sustainably produced H2 and CO2 or N2. Think of methanol and ammonia.

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

Listen to the podcast

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

You can listen to the podcast in the Spotify player below. Or go to your favorite podcast platform and search for 'Sound of Science'. Subscribe to the channel to be automatically notified of new episodes!

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