German student works to help solve carbon emissions challenge

Matthias Veltman, a PhD student in mechanical engineering at Iowa State, has come a long way from a little town called Lampertheim, Germany, to work on improving clean engine technology. In his third year as a doctoral student, he is working with Professor Song-Charng Kong to evaluate the use of ammonia as fuel in a compression ignition engine. Since ammonia contains no carbon, when it is burned as a fuel no CO₂ is released into the atmosphere! This research is a great example of what the 2050 Challenge in the College of Engineering at Iowa State is all about.

Matthias, Kong, and the research team have been making great progress. The team has already designed a custom stainless steel fuel injection system that is not corroded by the constant presence of ammonia (as a typical brass or copper system would be). BOSCH has been a worthy business partner, providing supplies for the project—most notably, a custom-made electronic fuel injection valve for the system. The team has set up a modified engine in a special lab equipped with a high-pressure fuel pump that allows the apparatus to run successfully utilizing ammonia as the main fuel source. The team is now working to design and create a portable version of the highly pressurized pump that would allow them to install the ammonia-powered engine in a vehicle outside of the lab.

Matthias has been given opportunities to “take it to the next level,” as he puts it, while a graduate student at Iowa State. He says his experiences have taught him how to “collaborate with other professionals and academics to find and apply appropriate solutions to complex problems.” He has most enjoyed the community at Iowa State. Matthias feels that the learning that occurs through involvement in Iowa State’s many extracurricular activities (such as the Society of International Engineers or the Formula SAE Team; Matthias is a member of both) is invaluable to today’s students.

Matthias completed his undergraduate work (known as “diploma” in the German system) at Hochschule Mannheim (HS Mannheim) and first came to Iowa State as an exchange student while working on his MS in mechanical engineering at HS Mannheim. Matthias spent his first year as a PhD student at Iowa State working on a project sponsored by John Deere to produce cleaner emissions through the creation of more effective in-cylinder soot and NOx controls. He has been working with Kong on the current project, using ammonia as an alternative fuel, since the beginning of 2009.


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