The future of automobile travel may be low-temperature combustion

Posted by
On August 24, 2022

Adrian Batista Planas, photographed in information technology’s Foundry computer room, is one of the first Kummer Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) Doctoral Fellows. His research is on long-range interactions between molecules, developing computer modeling to replace costly lab experiments in the future. Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

Ph.D. student Adrian Batista is motivated to learn from different fields of science and combine them to solve problems, because he believes that connecting them is the path to solving for new technological applications. That is why he chose to attend graduate school in chemistry after earning an undergraduate degree in physics.

“I like to think of science as an ensemble rather than a particular domain,” says Batista, who is a part of the new Kummer Innovation and Entrepreneurship Doctoral Fellows Program at Missouri S&T. This project provides support for Ph.D. students in STEM areas who are interested in pursuing technological innovation and entrepreneurship. “I am very interested in learning as much as possible about physical-chemical systems and applying my knowledge to all sorts of challenges.”

Mixing it all together

Batista’s current research project focuses on long-range interactions between molecules, which he says is the perfect mixture of physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science.

“Interaction between molecules is a common phenomenon that can affect the state of a system yielding different final products depending on their initial conditions,” says Batista, an international student from Cuba. “I am researching special cases when two molecules interact at low temperature and a wide range of pressure, conditions found in many places in nature like the stratosphere or nebulous where ozone and star formation occur.”

Batista’s research in molecular dynamics focuses on these interactions and their evolution over time. By calculating their potential function via modeling and simulating systems, he is creating a methodology to measure molecules’ potential energy surface while considering long-range molecule system variables such as dispersion, induction and electrostatic effects. His computer modeling could even replace costly laboratory experiments in the future.

“In recent decades, the automobile and aircraft industries have both been developing a new exciting technology to improve engine performance,” says Batista. “One of those technologies is low-temperature combustion, where the system’s temperature is low and long-range molecule interactions are essential. The transportation field is a large aspect of this research’s practical applications.”

Grad school by design

From as long ago as he remembers, Batista says that he has been interested in working in scientific fields, but he says that he chose to attend graduate school after a lot of reflection.

“My professional goal is to become a scientific researcher in the branches of applied physics and chemistry,” says Batista. “After spending a lot of time researching, I decided the Ph.D. program offered by Missouri S&T and the Kummer fellowship support will significantly help me achieve these goals.”

Batista says that he sees graduate school as a personal project. From his point of view, it is a long process that includes studying hard and spending a lot of time on a specific subject via research, but he says that he does not regret the decision to apply.

“The best advice I can give to a potential graduate school applicant is to think twice and take all the time you need to decide if you want to continue, instead of feeling the pressure that you must continue,” says Batista. “Second, find some subject that motivates you. Look for something that is an exciting and cool thing to you, rather than a nine-to-five office job, and you will enjoy it.”

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of approximately 7,000 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. S&T also is home to the Kummer Institute, made possible by a $300 million gift from Fred and June Kummer. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit

Share this page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


3 thoughts on “The future of automobile travel may be low-temperature combustion”

  • Gary & Judy Havener says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but what is cold combustion and how does it work.

    • mm Andrew Careaga says:

      Hi Gary. Great question. From what I can glean from Google, cold combustion is the term used to describe the generation of electrical energy by the reaction of H2 and O2 in fuel cells. It is “cold” combustion because there is no spark involved, just the chemical reaction. We’ll see if we can find a more detailed explanation.

      Andrew Careaga

    • Adrian Batista says:

      Hi Gary,

      Thank you so much for your great question!

      The term “cold combustion” is not precise. Instead, we should call it “low-temperature combustion” (LTC) because the temperatures are lower than those in ordinary engines, but it can still be hot. LTC is a collection of different strategies, such as Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) and Premixed Charge Compression Ignition (PCCI), that promise higher efficiency and reduced emissions with lower temperatures as a common factor. ( Lower combustion temperatures alter the chemistry of NOx and/or soot formation, Nitrogen oxides (NOx) is a common term for the nitrogen oxides N2O, NO, N2O3, NO2, and NO3 formed during the combustion of fuel and an essential component of air pollution). However, controlling ignition timing and heat release rate (HRR) are primary challenges before LTC technology can be implemented commercially.
      Each strategy works in a very different way. For example, HCCI, developed in the second half of the twenty century, was one of the early diesel combustion concepts that differed from the conventional diesel process. The goal of HCCI was to achieve as homogeneous a mixture of air and fuel as possible before ignition—much the same way as in a conventional spark ignition engine. This can be done either by injecting fuel into the intake port or directly into the cylinder and allowing sufficient time between injection and ignition to allow complete mixing of air and fuel. In both cases, as well said by Mr. Careaga, no spark or other forced ignition is used. It is done only by the chemical reactions in the mix, and here is when my research work could be significant.
      To simulate any molecular system dynamics, including chemical reactions, we have to know the interaction or forces, or in consequence, the potential energy surface (PES), which is related to the force. Nowadays, we have software(like Molpro) that can calculate points of the PES with great accuracy, but they are costly in time and computational resources. For example, calculating hundreds of these points could take hours or even days; however, simulations need thousands of them, making this approach extremely inefficient. My research has led me to build robust software that, from a set of points, can build the whole long-range part(When the molecules are far away from each other) of the PES for any molecular system in the order of the dataset accuracy. For a large number of systems, when the temperature, pressure, and energy are within a specific range, the long range of the PES is the most critical part, so accuracy here is crucial. For example, the systems that take part in low-temperature combustion. But they are not the only case. For instance, in Atmospheric Chemistry, to study complex processes like Ozone formation, or in Astro-Chemistry, to comprehend the formation and distribution of some compounds in a comet.

      It is a concise introduction, but I highly recommend the book listed below, which contains a more extended and detailed description of low-temperature combustion technology.

      Singh, A.P., Agarwal, A.K. (2018). Low-Temperature Combustion: An Advanced Technology for Internal Combustion Engines. In: Srivastava, D., Agarwal, A., Datta, A., Maurya, R. (eds) Advances in Internal Combustion Engine Research. Energy, Environment, and Sustainability. Springer, Singapore.