Student: Joel Lynch, Graduate Student in Mechanical Engineering, Iowa State University
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Travis Sippel
Modeling of Flames Seeded with Alkali Compounds under the Presence of Alternating Electric Fields
The ability to control and utilize combustion is at the heart of NASA’s ability to explore space. Traditional propulsion systems that rely on chemical combustion have been heavily optimized over the years, but the emergence of plasma-assisted combustion technologies have paved the way for even further improvements. Direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) fields can couple with the chemical ions that are normally liberated in high-temperature combustion environments, depositing energy and inducing plasma-chemical reactions.
My research project seeks to better understand how high-frequency alternating fields can be used to control and enhance combustion, enabling improved efficiency and non-traditional control techniques. Specifically, I study the coupling of microwave fields with solid propellant combustion, which when doped with alkali-based compounds can strongly react to electric fields. Enhancements in burning rate and performance have already been demonstrated for relatively low-power microwave fields.
Additionally, high-frequency alternating fields can exhibit strongly anisotropic behavior under certain physics conditions, which can create electron populations that vary significantly from the typical Maxwell-Boltzmann distributions. This presents a number of unique possibilities for interacting with flames beyond simple joule heating or ionic wind effects, potentially providing new techniques to sustain combustion in ultra-lean conditions or accelerating burning rate of solid rocket propellants.