Torsten Methling received his PhD from the German Aerospace Center and was a postdoc at Lund University from 2018-2019. Since 2020, he teaches as a visiting scientist at the University of Stuttgart and leads the research group "Chemical-Kinetic Modeling". He is also the project leader for the NeoFuels project. In this project, 14 institutes participate in the research of fuels from source to application to emission and its environmental impact. In the interview, he tells us what his research looks like and what he plans for the future.
What are you currently working on?
Torsten Methling: We are developing and investigating alternative fuels, which are inevitable for replacing fossil fuels. After all, combustion will be irreplaceable in many technical areas also in the future.
Within our research group we are developing highly accurate and compact chemical kinetic reaction mechanisms. With these models we are able to capture and understand the chemical processes linked to modern fuels. In addition, these models are also crucially required by our colleagues to allow efficient and effective design and optimization of technical applications running on novel and synthetic fuels, assuring reliant and safe operations with a low pollutant emission footprint.
At the same time, we develop simplification methods and numerical tools applying chemical kinetic mechanisms for the technical fuel assessment. These tools are utilized to identify and pre-select the most promising alternative fuels, before they are tested in extensive and costly experiments and simulations. Overall, with our work, we want to help shaping our future energy systems and achieving our global climate targets.
What is your personal motivation?
Torsten Methling: For tackling our global challenges, like the evident climate crisis, I want to be less part of the problem, but I want to be part of the solution. We scientists are just a cog in the wheel, but without them the system would not be able to move on. In my opinion, I am in the lucky position as a researcher, to work together with colleagues all around the world to identify, discuss and understand exciting scientific questions. I personally enjoy the opportunity to constantly discover and learn something new in our everyday working life. As a scientist, for me it is a great privilege to have the creative freedom to look beyond one’s nose and being allowed to think outside the box.
What kind of challenges are you facing in the near future?
Torsten Methling: Worldwide, it is our responsibility to tackle the huge challenge of the global climate crisis, to assure a world worth living for our and future generations. Especially in our field of research, we have the accountability and the obligation for the realization of the energy transition with our contributions and scientific support.
In our everyday working life as scientists, we are facing the important challenge to extend our classical research field with novel, facilitating techniques from other prosperous fields. For instance, for making our work on chemical kinetics even more efficient we are implementing various methods from computer science, software engineering and data science. In the end this feels like going to university again learning complete new and exciting subjects.
If you could make a wish for something for your research, what would you wish for?
Torsten Methling: Personally, I think, for every scientific field, the most important catalyst is winning passionate researchers who are keen on exploring science. With the right funding environment and the supportive room for creativity, excellent results will automatically prosper. In this regard, our colleagues and I are in the responsibility to fascinate students from our enthralling research topics in our scientific field. For instance, we need to show them that the topic of combustion and sustainable fuels is not as fossil as the current energy carriers we are still burning in way to high quantities today. Eventually, we and following researchers need to achieve the transition of our energy system from a system that is fueled by a few percentages of renewables to a fully sustainable system.
Where do you see your discipline in 5-10 years?
Torsten Methling: Today, scientists worldwide are already achieving excellent results from modelling and simulating combustion processes to improve our technical applications and energy systems. Nevertheless, nowadays we are just able to scratch the surface with the simulation of highly complex, turbulent, reactive combustion processes. That doesn’t mean, we don’t know better, currently it is only a limitation of our computational capacities that require us to compromise and simplify. I think, within the next 10 years the chances are high that groundbreaking quantum computing abilities might be available. These technologies allow and require completely new computational approaches with the potential to revolutionize many research fields. The by today standards unimaginable computational capabilities will enable incredible possibilities, e. g. the simultaneous co-optimization of the production and composition of sustainable fuels together with the corresponding combustion applications. Exactly this approach is essential, to improve the irreplaceable combustion processes, achieving a neutral CO2 balance at a low pollutant emission footprint.