Clemson professor receives grant to study fine particle emissions

Clemson University assistant professor Simona Onori speaks to one of her students at the school's International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville. Photo courtesy of Clemson University.

A researcher at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) will lead a five-year study aimed at reducing fine particle emissions from gasoline direct injection (GDI) engines.

Assistant professor Simona Onori has earned a $500,000 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to advance her exploration of engine control strategies that could help automakers meet tougher fuel economy and exhaust-emission requirements worldwide.

The study will begin this summer.

“Particulate emissions are one of the most unwanted but least understood hazards from gasoline direct injection engines,” Onori said. We’re trying to understand how we can make them cleaner. We don’t want those particulates to get into the air.”

Onori explained that GDI engines have better fuel economy and lower carbon dioxide emissions than more conventional port fuel injection engines.

She said GDI engines account for about 60 percent of the U.S. market, and their use across the globe is anticipated to grow as new legislative standards require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

But the new engines have been linked to higher emissions of particulate matter — microscopic solids or liquid droplets — that can cause serious health problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s really good to know that what you do is going to be useful, not just for the automotive industry, but for everyday life,” Onori said. “And educating students adds another positive layer.”

She said the team will use advanced modeling techniques and mathematical equations to develop “code” that can be programmed into a vehicle’s engine control unit, or ECU.

The code will help improve the systems on GDI vehicles that filter out the fine particles. Onori and her team also plan to develop a control program that will enable the filter, exhaust, and three-way catalytic converter to work together.

She became interested in the research after noticing a lack of good modeling for gasoline particulate filters and three-way catalytic converters.

The team will collaborate and share its research with the automotive industry, she said.

“The CAREER award is a testament to Dr. Onori’s creative approach, tireless efforts, and compelling educational plan,” said Zoran Filipi, chair of Clemson’s Department of Automotive Engineering, in a statement. “This confirms her standing among the top junior faculty members in the nation. She embodies Clemson automotive engineering’s mission, which strives to marry research excellence and industry relevance, and I could not be happier about the validation of her approach on the national stage.”

As part of the award, Onori will create a new undergraduate course, “Caring about the Environment through Control,” and a new graduate course, “Exhaust gas aftertreatment system modeling and control,” which Clemson said is the only known course of its kind at a North American university.

Onori plans to establish long-term relationships with colleagues in Germany, France, and China. She will lead an outreach program at GREEN Charter School in Greenville, where students will build LEGO vehicles powered by nine-volt batteries.

Onori is a native of Rome. She moved to the U.S. in 2007 and served as a research fellow, associate, and scientist at Ohio State University.

Although she did not grow up around cars, Onori said another professor at OSU piqued her interest in automotive controls.

She joined Clemson in 2013.

“Clemson was just the best place I could have ended up,” she said.

Onori earned a Laurea degree in computer science engineering and a Ph.D. in control engineering from the University of Rome, and a Master of Science degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of New Mexico.

“Dr. Onori exemplifies the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research and education and the integration of the two,” said Anand Gramopadhye, dean of Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, in a statement. “Her creative approach and collaboration with industry helps place her among the best of the best among the nation’s early-career faculty. This is a well-deserved honor.”






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