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US DOE Under Secretary for Science Says Liquid Fuels Will Be With Us For A Number of Decades; DOE Seeking to Build Collaboration Between National Labs and OEMs on Combustion Modeling and Simulation

Liquid transportation fuels—and combustion engines that burn them—are “going to be with us for quite awhile, a number of decades,” said Dr. Steven E. Koonin, Under Secretary for Science, US Department of Energy in his plenary talk at the 16th Directions in Engine-Efficiency and Emissions Research (DEER) Conference in Detroit.

However, he noted, “we need to learn how to use liquid fuels more efficiently than in the past.” In the quest for more efficient engines to meet that goal, Koonin said, “computer modeling and simulation loom large”.’s primarily a physics issue about energy density; the energy density—whether volumetric or gravimetric—of a liquid fuel is about 50 times better than the best batteries we can make now. For transportation, that is a primary consideration. However, we need to learn how to use them much more efficiently than we have been in the past. The department, to that end, is first of all supporting the development of the next generation of internal combustion technologies. There is a lot of headroom here.

We are trying to support that through the Combustion Research Facility in California run by Sandia National Laboratories, jointly funded by two parts of the Department of Energy, the science part and the vehicle efficiencies part, which is providing laser- and optical-based diagnostics for the fundamentals of combustion. Also through facilities such as the Advanced Proton Source at Argonne used for visualization and understanding.

As I look out over the department’s portfolio and ask what could make a difference in the next 5 to 10 years in terms of practical impact, computer modeling and simulation looms large in my thinking...It’s not widely known, but roughly 15 years ago when the US government decided to end underground nuclear testing of our stockpile, it embarked on a deliberate program to accelerate high-performance computing and to develop the methodologies to combine that computing with experimental data and historical test data that has resulted in the last 15 years in a truly remarkable predictive understanding of what goes on inside a nuclear weapon.

At the same time...for the last decade, the open, unclassified science part [of the DOE] has been funding and making available the same high-performance computing to many other uses: climate modeling, protein folding, materials’s now time, we think, to take that expertise and apply it in a much more concerted and accelerated way to energy systems. If we can do that properly, we can optimize designs which shorten design cycles and facilitate the transition to scale from the lab bench to full scale deployment, accelerating it and making it much more economical.

...We are looking to build a collaboration between the national labs and the OEMS, centered on the Combustion Research Facility that I think can be a real competitive advantage for US industry as we work to develop a validated in-cylinder computational model that can accelerate design and optimize it as well. I think you will see us working toward that goal over the next year or two.

—Under Secretary Koonin

A subsequent paper presented at DEER by Daniel Flowers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory highlighted the magnitude of the computation challenge. Flowers and his colleagues have been researching chemical kinetics of diesel fuels, and have developed mechanisms for complex long-chain species, enabling more representative diesel surrogates.

They have developed 2-methyl alkane mechanisms up to C20— branched iso-alkanes are significant components in gasoline and diesel fuels—bringing them up to about 7,900 species with some 27,000 reactions.

To run a full 3D cylinder model with 7,900 species would require about 42,000 Peta flops—about 30 hours on Oak Ridge Laboratory’s Jaguar supercomputer (currently the fastest), or about 60 years on a conventional workstation, Flowers said. Flowers outlined ongoing work in exploring new computing architectures (such as the optimized use of graphical processing units) as ways to improve simulation and modeling efficiency.

In his talk, Koonin noted that DOE was looking at pushing from Peta-scale computing to Exa-scale computing (1018 flops) in ten years—also targeted as necessary to be support the development of an eventual “500-mile battery” (earlier post).

The 2017-2025 phase of CAFE. In a separate talk at DEER, Tom Cackette, Chief Deputy Executive Office of the California Air Resources Board, shared ARB’s observations on the imminent release of the Technical Assessment Report (TAR) being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with input from ARB, on the targets for the next round of light-duty vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations for the years 2017-2025.

California is developing its own set of standards for the follow-on to the current Pavley requirements, but is seeking harmonization with the upcoming Federal rules (as is the case with the regulations through 2016).

According to Cackette, the TAR will outline a number of different annual reduction scenarios (3%, 4%, 5%, and, 6%) with the resulting CO2 grams/mile (tailpipe) in 2025 ranging from 190 g/mi under the 3% scenario to 143 g/mi under the 6% scenario. The 2016 target is 250 g/mi. This would equate in miles per gallon equivalent to a 2025 range from 47 mpge to 62 mpge under test and from 37 mpge to 50 mpge under use, respectively on the different percentage scenarios.

ARB’s initial observations on these targets, according to Cackette:

  • Weight reduction is the most cost-effective means to reduce consumption and emissions.
  • Further greenhouse gas emission reduction from conventional internal combustion engines is achievable and cost effective: “A lot more can be done.”
  • Hybrids are necessary, ranging from current levels of a few percentage points in sales at less stringent standards to 50% sales with higher annual CO2 reductions
  • Plug-in vehicles (including fuel cell vehicles) are only necessary by 2025 for higher annual CO2 improvements, because other technologies are pretty promising and have more favorable costs. Even with a 6% annual improvement, Cackette said, the fleet would need only a few—less than 10% in the higher scenario. It doesn’t mean that they won’t happen or be desirable from a consumer standpoint, just that they wouldn’t be necessary in large numbers to meet the target, Cackette said.


  • Daniel Flowers et. al. Computationally Efficient Simulation of High-Efficiency Clean Combustion Engines (DEER 2010)



"Plug-in vehicles (including fuel cell vehicles) are only necessary by 2025 for higher annual CO2 improvements, because other technologies are pretty promising and have more favorable costs."

Apparently all CARB Cackhead is talking about is his clan's beloved GHG targets. Forget obviating petroleum from foreign sources. Forget energy independence. Forget jobs, security, economy and cost of military protectionism in the Middle East. This guy cleaves to an utterly failed thesis based on GHG.

He is actually promoting the idea of continued ICE sales and use without attention to electrification. Politically this is the position taken by the oilcos.

Governor Schwarzenegger - do the world a favor and FIRE this man! His head is up in the wrong place (to be kind.)


I agree. We have been dragging our feet for these last 40 years.

We should be, "Full steam ahead!" working on high efficency gensets to drive high efficency, external rotor, electric motors.


President Obama. Please put an END to Federal financing of outdated, energy inefficient, security jeopardizing research like the Sandia-run Combustion Research Facility.

This is a barely disguised front to support combustion engine and gasoline sales.

Pathetically alliterative: Koonin and Cackhead. These two backward thinking men may be the reason the disruptive energy genie escapes the bottle. They are doing absolutely NOTHING to promote RENEWABLE /SUSTAINABLE liquid fuels (from data in this press release.)

Is that too harsh?

Roger Pham

Agree with you, Reel$$. Liquid fuel is sustainable ONLY if it will increasingly coming from renewable sources with high return of invested energy (ROIE).

Let's also wait and see how FCV will fare, come 2015.


Hey Reel,
I just sent my daily (it seems) broadside so I'm cooling down a bit./
I know you are a bit of a ruffnut but I can sympathise with the frustration over slow battery electric progress.

Of course the CO thing IS for me the major pollution aspect of conventional fossil fuels, esp as I don't hold the middle east countries sales as any different to any other.
The colonials here are on a mineral driven economic bonanza and many western countries and others exploit the natural resources from lands where the first peoples are 'effectively' dispossessed.
(the truth be known I also don't like any fat cat industrialist slave driving empire building - but as I said I'm not going there)

Also at least 30 countries have experienced food riots over the past year considered to be related to cost increases caused by bio fuel diversions.
People gotta be pretty hungry to riot.And the countries counted include some we would not have thought as 'third world.

There are of course other feedstocks and methods that do not divert food resources, but farming any must also rate as diversion.

I think that the ARB's condensed point statement IS ON the money.
I sincerely wish it wasn't but the idea that we can or will be in a position to jump trains between stops, has not gained acceptance generally owing to logistics and inertia as well as the marginal viability -say batteries or the much more obvious lack of understanding or developed plan for bio fuels.

In my opinion "Full speed ahead" in that regard (renewables) while fast in geological extinction time frame will appear barely moving from the observers viewpoint.

We won't just wake up one morning and it have arrived o'night express delivery.

The only thing we can be sure is that sitting on hands will see nothing change.

In my analysis, that is not an option.


Saw an interesting observation that the oil pipeline from the Caspian sea to the Mediterranean sea diverts from its straight path via Turkmenistan and Afghanistan in order to avoid Russian soil.
The Mediterranean port supplies predominately USA and UK.


Well, this article really triggered all of you “electric drive Talibans”. The more improvement we see on liquid fuels and conventional drivetrains, the further away your dream of electric propulsion will be. Would a moratorium on research on conventional drivetrains and fuels help your dream come true? By the way, have any of you bothered to study the proceedings from previous DEER conferences? If you did, you would find a lot of work on hybrids.


Improving ICE efficiency will certainly have more immediate effects on liquid fuel consumption if applied to all transportation vehicle sizes including large trucks, buses, locomotives, tractors, delivery vehicles, cars etc etc. Gensets with twice the fuel efficiency could also lower fuel consumption of most PHEVs.

Of course, pure electric vehicles will still be the final answer, 2 or 3 decades down the road. Much higher performance (and lower cost) batteries are required but they will come.



I am not so upset about the slow BEV development. I think there is an extraordinary amount of action in the field. Especially in storage systems chemistry. I am sorely disappointed in the lack of cognizance at the Federal and State levels toward ALTERNATIVE liquid fuels.

We can all presumably agree that liquids will continue as the primary fuel source for heavy lifting and aerospace. But where is DOE and CARB on developing mass scale algal oils?? Sure we will transition to electric vehicle across a two-three decade window. BUT let's look ahead to the need for domestic non-fossil jet fuel, biodiesel and alcohols. THIS is what Sandia et al should be applying their brain trust towards.

These two guys are restraining the growth of the most efficient, cost effective (long term) transportation system yet developed - EVs. If they want to make ICEs more efficient fine - tell me when they come close to electric drive efficiencies.

Sorry. This is what we call "business as usual." With my taxpayer's money. We need men with vision to set an agenda for the ordered transition to electrification rather than continuing to support the fossil fueled combustion engine industry. Do that with private money gentlemen.


You could also look at another article with results presented at the DEER conference. Funding research like this certainly gives great value for the money. Most taxpayers but Reel$$ would realize this...


Quoth Peter XX:

this article really triggered all of you “electric drive Talibans”.
Taliban? <snort> Name-calling on that level demonstrates your intellectual bankruptcy.
The more improvement we see on liquid fuels and conventional drivetrains, the further away your dream of electric propulsion will be.
Which is only a rear-guard action, because petroleum extraction will eventually fall to zero as its EROEI gets too low and biofuels cannot fill the gap. The raw materials for electric propulsion are cheap, and falling production costs will inevitably beat ICEVs on life-cycle cost except for niche applications.

What these improvements accomplish is buying time. Doomers think the world economy will collapse as falling petroleum supplies force limits to economic activity and BEVs fail to come to market quickly and cheaply enough. Cutting fuel requirements by 40% gives a margin of about 7 more years to deal with the issue. That's tight, but probably enough.


I already know that whatever I opinion I have, you always have the opposite opinion. Presumably, you are a much better poet than I am. Based on you contribution, however, you are cannot be an engineer.


"Funding research like this certainly gives great value for the money. Most taxpayers but Reel$$ would realize this... "

Peter. Why should I pay for ICE R&D with taxpayer funds - when your link indicates the Swedes are happily doing so? If they actually produce something of use in transitioning away from outdated combustion energy - we will license it. Or let it be paid for by private stake holders.


My apologies for getting my geography so wrong, off the top of my head.
Unlike some that claim 'palo'science qualifications and licenses,even those that have written thesis on 'Palo' anything, I can make the excuse that my understanding was lacking.

The thrust of my comment in relation to your 'hidden costs of petroleum fuels from the middle east is this:
That the militarisation of the south east of Afghanistan is directly related to an oil pipeline that will flow from the Caspian sea through Turkmenistan to the Gulf of Oman exiting between Pasni and Karachi in Pakistan.

This diversion cicumvents a much shorter option that would have seen either Iran to the Gulf of Oman or through former and current? Soviet include Russia that would take the pipeline to the Medditerranin and western Europe via the black sea.

The Alternative pipeline route would therefore have passed through Iran and soviet territories.

The 'costs' of oil as you put it must include the American patriots, and their allies, The million dead Iaqui citizens (according to reports from The Lancet based on statistically verified UN figures as opposed to mass media figures of 100,000) That are not acceptable from any ethical point.

Lets not forget that The Israeli state was placed in the middle of the largest known oil reserves at that time after the second world war.

We now have a situation where the major religions of the world (and I'm sure they are all correct to claim the only truth) Have either willingly or unwittingly stood up to claim a MORAL imperative.

It makes sense as his history has shown to spur ethnic and national hatreds with moral and religious subtext.

The same base motivations of greed and power you should understand have been very effective in manipulating the ordinary persons.
Humanity is flawed and we are all required to make 'simple' decisions that advantage our own survival.That leave the way open for base motivated people and organisations to exploit us all for some perceived profits or benefit. IE Power, Money,etc or stupidity wrong belief, loyalty etc.

I hope that clears my off the hip reply to the earlier post.


Quoth Peter XX:

I already know that whatever I opinion I have, you always have the opposite opinion.
Only when I dispute with you. As obtuse as you are, you wouldn't notice when I didn't.
Presumably, you are a much better poet than I am. Based on you [sic] contribution, however, you are cannot be an engineer.
I've never been paid for poetry, but engineering expertise puts clothes on my back, a roof over my head and food on my table. It's true without a doubt that I'm a better grammarian than you are. May I suggest putting "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" on your Christmas list?


And Peter XX ,
Is a known 'one trick horse, certainly incapable of understanding the imperative.

His demeaner brands him as a Stan peterson,Exdemo others? clone.
With a demonstrated inability to absorb new ideas.

Electric drive Taliban?
Sounds like a looser having a tantrum.


English is not my native tongue. However, I can speak four languages and English speaking people usually understand me. I hope my grammar is good enough to participate on this site, or else, the moderator will stop me. Engineer-Poet, how many languages do you speak?


Don't forget, as well as biomass, liquid fuels may also come from the conversion of captured CO2.

Getting EV into the transportation mix is fine, but this doesn't mean that there should be a 100% obsession with it. Liquid fuels will have an equally important role as well, given the wide number of potential sources it can be developed from.

For what its worth, I still prefer the ICE. Why, my driving habits are occasional long distance journeys, not short commutes (which are better done by mass transit anyway). This means that EVs are no good for me, given their limited range. I'm also a bit concerned about how quiet they are and, hence, how more people are likely to get run over becasue they didn't hear anything coming down the street.


Hopefully some efforts will be made on funding research for renewable liquid fuels as ICE can and will be made more efficient. I don't understand people wanting to drop R&D on ICE and go full steam EV, won't we need BOTH to be efficient?

Subsiduary question for 100% EV supporters, how will you produce the electricity, taking into account the fact that the biggest challenge comes from China and India?


Being a polyglot lets you throw slurs like "Taliban"? What a sense of privilege some people have. It's as if Europe never really got rid of feudalism.


It's not that those who support electrification are against improvements in ICEs and alternative fuels (with some exceptions). It's that the improvements to ICEs and alternative liquid fuels have been around for decades. Small turbo charged engines, Fisher-Tropsch from coal. What is it that stops us from doing these? We know how, we just don't. Whatever it is that stops us from doing it(insert your conspiracy here), the technology has been there and not use. It's really low hanging fruit. Sure you'll find disingenuous folks within the government that say this isn't so, but they're just trying to grow the programs that employ them.


I will enjoy not continuing this discussion with you.


Actually those who support electrification recognize the undeniable physics of the thing: 95% efficient electric drive vs. a 50% efficient ICE requiring foreign oil at a REEL$$ cost of $7-10/gallon.

Peter XX - you miss the entire thrust here. Regardless of the efficiency of your engine and particulate control solutions - you need petroleum oil to fuel it. That resource is in real dollars far more expensive than even the first rev of electric drives with heavy, low energy batteries. Petro-oil is over. Even Daimler built his first engine for veggie oil.

@Scott: Test drive a new VOLT when they arrive in your area. It's range is unlimited by battery.

North America has huge resources in NG, uranium, coal, hydro, wind, solar, AND tar sand. Producing enough electricity to power 100M PHEVs/EVs is only a matter of choosing the best solutions.

The new mandate for Federal funding at Combustion Research is to deliver improved sustainable liquid fueled engines specifically for use in HEV gensets.


No electric car has 95% efficiency; not even in your dreams. MIT showed higher well-to-wheel efficiency for a gasoline hybrid than BEV and PHEV. You must have missed this study. Similar results have been seen in European studies. If you have such enormous resources for sustainable electricity production in the USA, why are you building coal and NG power plants?


...and forgetting that 50% of the electricity produced at the power station is lost along the transmission lines. Plus there's a lot of the stuff that comes out of the plughole comes from gas or coal.

Outside the US, many countries rely on 'foreign' energy. In the UK this includes coal because we shut all of our even profitable mines down in the 1980s and import yukky orimulsion instead from Venezuela.

Given that the world is more globalised, even if you were buying 'home produced' energy, its probably going to power a 'foreign' car imported from Japan or Germany.

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