Spotlight: Dr. Riccardo Scarcelli

Updated: Dec 16, 2018

One of the main objectives of #HugYourEngine is to shine a spotlight on individuals who are helping make internal combustion engines cleaner and more efficient. This spotlight is on Riccardo Scarcelli.


Dr. Riccardo Scarcelli is a Principal Mechanical Engineer at Argonne National Laboratory. He joined Argonne in 2008 as a PostDoc after receiving his PhD from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. He has 15 years of expertise in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) applied to multi-dimensional internal combustion engine modeling. His research interests range between advanced engine combustion concepts, turbulent and reactive flows, conventional and alternative fuels for engines, and high-performance computing.


Dr. Scarcelli is currently the Principal Investigator of a number of research projects on modeling advanced ignition and combustion concepts for GDI engines, fuel effects on SI and CI combustion (Co-Optima program), and high-efficiency MD/HD CNG engines. All of these projects are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Vehicle Technologies.


Outside of his research duties at Argonne, Dr. Scarcelli serves as Lead Organizer of technical sessions on Natural Gas engines at the international conferences organized by the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE).


Kelly Senecal (KS): Why did you get started in combustion research?

Riccardo Scarcelli (RS): I have always been attracted by thermodynamics-related subjects during my college years and I really wanted to study in detail a very complex, nice looking thermodynamic system: to this purpose, what could be better than an internal combustion engine? So, when I was offered an M.S. thesis work on IC engine modeling, I was very excited and I accepted the challenge. That’s how it started 15+ years ago, and still here I am.


KS: What are you working on now?

RS: I am currently working on many IC engine-related projects, mostly funded by the Department of Energy, some of them funded by Industry. My main expertise is on spark-ignition (SI) engine combustion and high-efficiency IC engine concepts. In particular, I am leading the DOE-funded research effort on modeling advanced ignition systems. This is a subject that needs attention since advanced ignition is a key enabling technology for future high-efficiency engines, not only in the SI space but potentially also in the assisted compression ignition (ACI) space. For this DOE program, I ended up researching plasma assisted ignition systems and therefore studying non-equilibrium plasmas. This was a new research field for me and I was happy to learn so much in just a couple of years. Today, I am trying to bring this new knowledge into the IC engine space by means of plasma ignition computational models.


Dr. Scarcelli discussing non-equilibrium plasma properties with his former post-doc, Anqi Zhang, and Felipe Gomez del Campo, founder and CEO of FGC Plasma Solutions.

KS: What does your lab look like?

RS: Argonne is a National Laboratory. Most of the research going on here is on basic science. Our division (Energy Systems) is perhaps one of the most applied divisions. Most of us are mechanical engineers, not chemists or physicists. Our engine test cells are great but I must say that, being a computational researcher, the best area in the Laboratory is where the large clusters and the supercomputers are located. It is impressive what type of sophisticated machines human beings are able to come up with!


Dr. Scarcelli hard at work in his office at Argonne National Laboratory.

KS: What’s your favorite type of flame?

RS: Quite obviously, it is a turbulent, mostly premixed, flame. I like it being a little thicker than the typical “flamelet” because that means that combustion is happening in a dilute environment, which is good for efficiency!


KS: What’s your favorite fuel?

RS: I have been working with many fuels, liquid or gaseous, conventional or alternative. As an example, the engine I am hugging in the picture, i.e a single-cylinder research engine at Argonne, has been used in the last 10-15 years for engine research projects using gasoline, hydrogen, natural gas, etc. I have been simulating this engine for 10 years now, and with most of these fuels. I loved working with hydrogen. Hydrogen properties are great, unfortunately it’s just not a fuel (technically speaking). My favorite one is still a gaseous fuel, i.e. natural gas. I started my research career working with NG and still today the NG-related projects are always fun for me. I also like gasoline because it’s simply the most utilized fuel in transportation.


Riccardo Scarcelli hugging a Single-Cylinder Research Engine at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, Illinois.

KS: What advice would you give students thinking about going into combustion research?

RS: My advice would be: go for it! Don’t listen to all the talking about future transportation and internal combustion engines not being part of it. Furthermore, combustion research is extremely fascinating. So many physics involved, and the strong interaction between two fundamental scientific disciplines such as turbulence and chemistry. Do I need to say anything else?


KS: Is the IC Engine dead?

RS: Hold on a second: last time I checked, I happened to see a few IC engine-powered vehicles out there…is there anything I don’t know that you wanted to tell me??? - LOL


KS: How is your work helping improve fuel efficiency or reduce emissions?

RS: Essentially, my goal is to explore advanced engine concepts that improve the IC engine efficiency. This has a significant impact on fuel consumption and pollutant emissions. Lately, I have been investigating the role of ignition systems and studying advanced ignition technologies (such as transient plasmas) that can make IC engines more efficient and cleaner. More specifically, I am a modeling researcher and my task is to make ignition models more predictive so that we can support industry in the development of advanced ignition systems. This task is very challenging, since most of the novel ignition systems of interest for industry do not have adequate models to be used in simulations, in order to support their development. I am tasked with building these models, if needed.

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