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KAUST team shows that burning fuel at elevated pressure significantly increases soot particle size

A team at the Clean Combustion Research Center, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia has shown that burning fuel at high pressure can significantly increase the size of the soot particles that are produced. A paper on their work is published in the Proceedings of the Combustion Institute.


TEM images of soot aggregates at magnification of 30,000–42,000. Scale bar length is 100 nm. Amin et al.

Soot is a major global pollutant, harmful to human health and the second biggest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. The complex substance comprises individual nanoparticles that are linked together in chain-like structures called fractal aggregates. Because the effect of soot particles on human health is highly dependent on the soot structure, the team was motivated to understand the formation processes.

The formation of the soot is the key to controlling its emissions.

—Hafiz Amin, first author

The effect that elevated pressure has on soot production is not well understood. William Roberts from the Clean Combustion Research Center and his team developed an efficient method for soot sampling that provides new insights into soot formation.

The team developed a way to sample, at pressures up to 10 atmospheres, the soot particles produced in a laminar flame called a counterflow diffusion flame. The counterflow burner produces a horizontal, circular shaped flame that is stable and uniform.

The counterflow flame allows the control of the fluid dynamic of the flame and requires less computational power for modeling, explained Anthony Bennett, co-author of the paper and current Ph.D. student in Roberts’ team. The researchers collected soot from the flame using a fine carbon-coated copper mesh held by a pneumatically powered robot arm that rapidly shoots out to collect a soot sample with minimal disturbance to the flame.

The team analyzed their soot samples using transmission electron microscopy and observed that elevated pressure significantly increased soot particle size. The mean particle diameter of 17.5 nanometers at 3 atmospheres of pressure rose to 47 nanometers at 10 atmospheres.

Now that they have developed an effective high-pressure experimental setup and soot-sampling procedure, the team has many more experiments planned, Amin says. Among these is extending the investigations to a pressure of 40 atmospheres, which is relevant to the operating pressure of gas turbines.

The team would also like to investigate how different fuel chemistry and residence times influences soot production at elevated pressure.


  • Amin, H. M. F., Bennett, A. & Roberts, W. L. (2018) “Determining fractal properties of soot aggregates and primary particle size distribution in counterflow flames up to 10 atm.” Proceedings of the Combustion Institute doi: 10.1016/j.proci.2018.07.057


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