Improving Combustion Through Plasma

Felipe Gomez del Campo, a startup founder and CEO as well as a graduate of Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), is developing new ways of improving combustion with the help of plasma. Plasma is a state of matter similar to a gas but with many charged, energetic particles. Gomez del Campo’s company, FGC Plasma Solutions, is using plasma to transform combustion technologies used in aerospace, national security, and other energy-related fields.

Felipe Gomez del Campo, CEO of FGC Plasma Solutions, at Argonne’s Distributed Energy Research Center.

One way the company is improving combustion is through a fuel injection technology that uses plasma to enable more energy efficient operation of jet engines. Today, the fuel used in jet engines is among the largest expenses in aerospace and accounts for about 2.4% of global man-made carbon dioxide emissions per year. With its technology, FGC Plasma Solutions expects to reduce fuel consumption and produce fuel savings of between 1 percent and 5 percent per flight – which can deliver significant fuel savings if adopted at a fleet scale. This could save the aerospace industry around $1 billion in fuel costs annually and eliminate 20 million metric tons of CO2 per year. In addition to fuel and emissions reductions, the technology can also help increase fuel flexibility and improve reliability.

 

MILESTONES

The CRI program, an entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, has helped Gomez del Campo surpass major milestones in the research and development of his technology as well as in raising public funds. He began the program with only a proof-of-concept and a few laboratory tests completed, but during his time in the CRI program, he successfully partnered with an engine manufacturer to incorporate and test his fuel injection system in a gas turbine for the first time—a critical step to advancing the technology.

 

Access to Argonne engine experts and the tools they use was key to helping the company improve the design and safety of its system. Munidhar Biruduganti, a principal research engineer at Argonne, was one of them. He advised and worked with Gomez del Campo to test his plasma system on a real-world engine.

“When innovators come with fresh ideas that align well with the strengths and capabilities of a laboratory like ours, there is great value that can be realized,” Biruduganti said.

In 2018, Gomez del Campo won NASA’s iTech Award—the agency’s top award for innovation—for his novel fuel-injection system. The award, given by NASA’s chief technologists, recognizes technologies that “clearly demonstrate a potential to fill a critical need for NASA and humans on Earth.”

While in the CRI program, FGC Plasma Solutions raised over $1 million in public funds, a feat that positioned the company to receive its biggest award yet: $3.2 million in funding from the  U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), through an AFWERX Phase II SBIR contract, as well as through DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Through this DoD SBIR contract, FGC Plasma will work with AFWERX and the Air Force Research Laboratory to rapidly develop and field new capabilities for U.S. airmen.

“CRI helped us grow by giving us the flexibility to not be locked into a specific development path,” said Gomez del Campo. “We got to explore different applications for our technology and also develop relationships with different stakeholders in the energy space and understand what those customers wanted. That helped us to be more competitive in our proposals.”

 

CONTINUED MOMENTUM

In addition to its Phase II contract, FGC Plasma was recently awarded two other DOE grants to develop applications of its technology in support of DOE’s mission. Under a Phase I SBIR grant, FGC Plasma will develop an efficient, plasma-based technology for converting CO2 into useful chemical feedstocks. If successful, this technology could improve the economic viability of carbon sequestration technologies.

“CRI helped us grow by giving us the flexibility to not be locked into a specific development path. We got to explore different applications for our technology and also develop relationships with different stakeholders in the energy space and understand what those customers wanted. That helped us to be more competitive in our proposals.”

Felipe Gomez del Campo, Founder and CEO, FGC Plasma Solutions 

FGC Plasma Solutions is also collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a major engine manufacturer under a second DOE phase II SBIR grant. Funds are being used to further develop and demonstrate the application of FGC Plasma’s fuel injector technology for improving low-emissions combustion on industrial gas turbines. If successful, this technology would reduce emissions and fuel consumption from both industrial gas turbines and jet engines.

“We learned a lot from our experience in CRI and working with the experts at Argonne,” Gomez del Campo said. “It’s helped prepare us as a company to deliver innovative solutions across several industries and be ready for the great opportunities that are ahead of us today.”

 

Chain Reaction Innovations provides innovators with the laboratory tools, seed capital, and technical, business and manufacturing expertise needed to rapidly mature their early-stage technologies to enable them to attract the long-term capital and commercial partners needed to scale and launch into the marketplace. CRI is part of the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). EERE created the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs to provide an institutional home for innovative postdoctoral researchers to build their research into products and train to be entrepreneurs. The two-year program for each innovator is funded by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO).

 

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy supports early-stage research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to strengthen U.S. economic growth, energy security, and environmental quality.

 

Read more about the impact of CRI innovators.

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