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Fuel Combustion and Engine Performance

Photo of a gasoline direct injection piston with injector.

NREL studies the effects of new fuel properties on performance and emissions in advanced engine technologies.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

NREL's combustion research and development bridges fundamental chemical kinetics and applied engine research to investigate how new engine technologies can be co-developed with fuels and lubricants to maximize energy-efficient vehicle performance.

Through modeling, simulation, and experimental validation, researchers examine what happens to fuel inside the engine, as well as how it interacts with equipment and what emissions are produced.

NREL's combustion and engine research activities include:

  • Developing experimental and simulation research platforms to enable efficient combustion and diversification of fuel options
  • Collaborating with partners to develop and refine accurate, efficient kinetic mechanisms for fuel ignition
  • Investigating low-speed pre-ignition impacts of lubricants
  • Determining the effect of fuel properties on combustion and engine efficiency optimization
  • Using engine-based studies conducted at the ReFUEL Laboratory to correlate data for experimental and simulation efforts.


Results from NREL's combustion and engine studies feed back into the lab's fuel chemistry, emissions research, and co-optimization activities and guide engine manufacturers in developing equipment and controls.

Fuel Ignition Kinetics

NREL conducts both bench experiments and modeling simulations of fuel ignition kinetics performance in the Fuel Combustion Laboratory. NREL's flexible research platform based on an ignition quality tester (IQT) complements fundamental research, examining combustion across a wide range of temperatures, pressures, and levels of dilution. Paired with the lab's Peregrine supercomputer, IQT-based experiments make it possible to validate kinetic models for automakers in hours, rather than weeks. The tool's independent control system allows researchers to conduct ignition experiments examining low-volatility fuels in engine-relevant conditions and at small volumes, which often pose severe challenges to traditional devices.

More Information

Search the NREL Publications Database to access published documents and data about combustion and engine research. Also explore our facilities or learn about working with us.

Contact Brad Zigler for more information about NREL's combustion and engine projects.