Akkerman, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will work in partnership with Ali Rangwala of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, an associate professor of fire protection engineering, to study the evolution and triggers of particle-air combustion. Their work is being funded by a grant from the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health.

“There has been a lack of fundamental understanding of turbulent burning and combustion instabilities, even in a simple case of a homogenous, gaseous environment,” said Akkerman. “The presence of impurities such as moisture, rock or coal dust, make the problem event more difficult.

“Recent advances in this research area will allow us to bridge the gap between the fundamental knowledgebase and practical applications,” Akkerman continued.

“Our goal will be to develop a computational platform to analyze combustion triggering, dynamics and velocities in gaseous and particulate turbulent environment. The model will account for such state-of-the-art effects of turbulent combustion as flame-flow feedback and turbulence-instability coupling in the presence of combustible dust. This is especially relevant to methane-air-dust explosions in coal mines. Our final aim is to provide a descriptive scenario of an accidental explosion/fire in such a configuration”

WPI’s role in this proposal will be to perform the experiments needed for the research. “Development of a numerical model necessitates a fundamental experimental platform for input parameter estimations as well as validation,” said Akkerman. “Both types of experiments will be conducted at Rangwala’s Combustion Laboratory at WPI.”

In October 2013, the Alpha Foundation announced a call for proposals for short-term research projects that encourage new, exploratory and developmental studies, demonstrating innovative thinking and solutions to mining health and safety problems. The call resulted in 53 submissions, five of which were funded.

“The foundation is eager to investigate the potential breakthroughs that these innovative projects offer and looks forward to the results of these studies” said Michael Karmis, foundation president and the Stonie Barker Professor of the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering and the director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech.