Researcher profile

Dr. Henry Curran

Introducing Henry Curran

Dr. Curran’s research interest lies in the study of the chemistry of how fuels burn in combustors in order to increase efficiency and reduce emissions for a cleaner world. 92% of the world’s energy demand is currently being satisfied through the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, in order to provide electricity, heat homes and fuel transport. In Ireland the situation is even more pronounced with about 98% of energy provided by fossil fuel combustion, of which nearly 90% is imported from countries as far away as Russia and Columbia. In addition, fossil fuel resources are finite and so alternative energy sources are becoming increasingly important. An understanding of how all fuels, both fossil and biofuels, burn at a molecular level with regards to the nature and speed of the chemical reactions that take place, together with the associated energy release and fluid flows is fundamental in designing cleaner and more efficient combustion devices such as engines and gas turbines.

Dr Curran's distinguished career

Dr. Curran received his PhD degree in 1994 from NUIG in experimental and numerical studies of combustion kinetics. He served as a research scientist in combustion modelling from 1994 to 1999 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California (LLNL). In 1999, he returned to Ireland as a lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology while continuing to consult with LLNL and performing collaborative research at NUIG from 2001 to 2005. He was appointed as a lecturer in Physical Chemistry in NUIG in October 2005 and became a Senior Lecturer in 2009. He was awarded a DSc by Research from the National University of Ireland in October 2011. He is on the editorial board of Combustion and Flame and the Proceedings of Combustion Institute.

The Combustion Chemistry Centre applies experimental, chemical kinetic and ab-initio research methods to the understanding of fuels combustion. Experiments are performed in rapid compression machines and in shock tubes to simulate the physical conditions of temperature and pressure encountered in engines and gas turbines. These experimental data form the basis for the validation of detailed chemical kinetic mechanisms that describe the elementary reactions responsible for fuel oxidation leading to the formation of intermediates and the final products of fuel combustion, carbon dioxide and water.

The detailed chemical kinetic mechanisms produced are combined with computational fluid dynamic codes and used by industry in their research and design laboratories to design cleaner, more efficient combustors. For example, the composition of natural gas can vary greatly depending on its origin. Experiments to optimize combustor design for different natural gas compositions experimentally can cost turbine manufacturers hundreds of thousands of euro, while our experiments and chemical kinetic simulations cost a small fraction by comparison. Companies are increasingly interested in the effects on combustion properties of blending biofuels with fossil fuels.

Industrial partners such as the Swiss division of power generator Alstom, the Canadian power generation arm of Rolls Royce, Saudi Arabian oil company, Saudi Aramco, and the automotive manufacturer Renault, all fund the Combustion Chemistry Centre. 

The Combustion Chemistry Centre comprises, Dr. Henry Curran as director, with five post-doctoral researchers and eight PhD students. Its international collaborators include Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (CA), Argonne National Laboratory (Il), Princeton University (NJ), Imperial College London, CNRS-Orleans, University of Nancy among others. 

Dr Curran is one of only two researchers who received an SFI PI award in Energy in 2009

The demand for clean energy is a topical issue that has long been recognised by Science Foundation Ireland which invests in word-class academic research that is most likely to generate new knowledge, leading edge technologies and competitive enterprises in fields of science and technology.  Dr. Curran’s research has been funded by SFI Ireland since 2004 and he is one of only two researchers who received an SFI PI award in Energy in 2009.

Henry Curran

Henry Curran