Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. Student Leads Caterpillar-Funded Combustion Project

Mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, Chris Van Roekel, standing in front of a G3304 Caterpillar engine in the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab at the CSU Powerhouse Energy Campus.

If you take a peek inside the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab, also known as the EECL, you’ll see mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Chris Van Roekel pushing the limits of a G3304 Caterpillar engine. Van Roekel has been working in the EECL under Dr. Dan Olsen’s direction for three years and is dedicated to advancing the combustion field.

His current project, funded by the Caterpillar Large Power Systems Division, has a threefold objective. First, to demonstrate the feasibility of implementing a dedicated exhaust recirculation, or EGR, on a stoichiometric natural gas engine; second, to upgrade the Caterpillar G3304 engine with modern controls and explore the operational limits of the engine by running with a dedicated EGR; and third, to understand the fundamental effects of a dedicated EGR on combustion products. In addition to upgrading this Caterpillar engine, Van Roekel is upgrading the test cell in which the engine was installed. He will collect data while the engine is running and write publications based on the results.

Van Roekel also completed his master’s degree under the direction of Dr. Olsen, where his initial interest in combustion began. “In the spring of 2011, I visited a number of university research facilities, one of which was the CSU EECL. The facility and research taking place were unlike anything I had experienced before,” remembered Van Roekel.

As a recent graduate, Van Roekel has plans to pursue an industry position in large-engine combustion research. After working with industry partners such as Caterpillar, focusing on natural gas combustion, and Cummins, during his master’s degree, focusing on diesel combustion, he feels ready to forge ahead with a versatile skill set under his belt.

Van Roekel sums up his time in Dr. Olsen’s lab with one word, opportunity. “During my time at CSU I have been able to work alongside brilliant graduate students and world-class researchers on novel projects that are driving the future of combustion. The knowledge and direction given by Dr. Olsen while working on these projects has been invaluable, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be working under his direction with an outstanding community of students and researchers at the CSU Powerhouse Energy Campus.”