GREENVILLE — New research at Clemson University could improve a technology that many experts see as crucial in helping automakers meet increasingly rigorous fuel economy and exhaust-emission requirements around the world.

Simona Onori, an assistant professor, is working to reduce fine-particle emissions in gasoline direct injection engines. She has received a $500,000 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to advance her research and will be doing her work at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville.

Simona Onori, right, talks with Harikesh Arunachalam, a Ph.D. candidate who works in her lab at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

Simona Onori, right, talks with Harikesh Arunachalam, a Ph.D. candidate who works in her lab at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

Gasoline direct injection engines have better fuel economy and lower carbon-dioxide emissions than more conventional port fuel injection engines. But the new technology results in higher fine-particle emissions that can be hazardous to people’s health.

“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.”

Engines with gasoline direct injection account for about 60 percent of the U.S. market, and their use worldwide is forecast to grow as new legislative standards require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that have been linked to climate change, she said.

The research Onori and her team are doing focuses on gasoline particulate filters that trap soot in channels arranged similar to a honeycomb. The Onori team will use advanced modeling techniques to predict when soot will accumulate and when to burn it off to prevent plugs and keep the engine running smoothly.

The process would be made possible with engine-control strategies that would be programmed into the engine’s computer, or engine control unit. Onori and her team also plan to develop a control program that would enable three complex systems — the filter, exhaust and three-way catalyst — to work together.

Onori said she will collaborate on the research with industry, sharing the results she generates.

“This research is very new,” she said. “They are doing their own testing and improving their understanding of the system everyday, and that is going to be brought into this project.”

Zoran Filipi, chair of the automotive engineering, said Onori’s award is well-deserved.

“The CAREER award is a testament to Dr. Onori’s creative approach, tireless efforts and compelling educational plan,” he said. “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.”

Onori started working on emission control problems right after joining CU-ICAR in 2014. She was the principal investigator of an industry-sponsored project aimed at developing what experts call “model-based control strategies for the new advanced aftertreatment systems.”

“Since the CU-ICAR team and I started, it was clear that ‘good’ models for gasoline particulate filters were not available, nor for the three-way catalyst,” Onori said. “That was the incipit of this CAREER award.”

She came up with the idea for the research while working with a colleague to develop a new modeling technique they were using for batteries. She realized batteries had a lot in common with gasoline particulate filters and that the same kind of models could be used.

What makes Onori’s research unique is that the models she is developing are based on physics and will be simplified for use in the engine control unit.

As part of the CAREER award, Onori plans to create an undergraduate Creative Inquiry course, “Caring about the Environment through Control” and develop a new graduate course, “Exhaust gas aftertreatment system modeling and control,” the only known course of its kind at a North American university.

She plans to encourage a student from the Research Experience for Undergraduates program to pursue a unique aspect of the research project that compliments the CAREER award.

Onori is also planning to establish long-term relationships with colleagues who have close industry ties in Germany, France and China. And she plans an outreach program at GREEN Charter School in Greenville, where students will build LEGO vehicles powered by a nine-volt battery.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Onori on the award.

“Dr. Onori exemplifies the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research and education and the integration of the two,” he said. “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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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under award number 1653836. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.