– Despite what is said in the media, we will not have one single energy source suitable for all applications. The future will definitely be diversified. Natural gas is still a strong research area, but of course, those black horses that everyone is talking about – hydrogen, methanol and ammonia – are gaining a lot of our attention as well, says Mikulski.
The European Union originally agreed to ban the sale of cars and vans with internal combustion engines after 2035, but at the end of March it announced that engines running on e-fuels would be allowed. Heavy transport and off-road sector were also not included in the original sales ban, but they are facing stricter EU emissions standards. The maritime industry, in turn, is also sailing towards decarbonisation and developing engines powered by carbon-neutral synthetic fuels.
According to Mikulski, combustion with new fuels is in many cases more challenging than with conventional fuels. They are forcing the industry to rethink technical solutions and start from a clean sheet.
– Now we have the opportunity to rethink the previous choices and make the combustion engine a far more superior energy conversion machine than we had so far.
Mikulski says that there are several different combustion concepts.
– Nowadays, we distinguish around ten physically and phenomenologically different combustion concepts that we use to operate engines. All these options need to be considered with each fuel paring. What would be the best combustor concept, and what combustion physics should we actually implement to meet future emission targets?
New engines will also need to be fuel-flexible. This creates challenges for design and testing. Engine development and research are therefore becoming more and more virtual.
– We need to create simulation toolchains that can handle this complexity and solve it on a virtual cluster instead of relying on practical experiments. While laboratory testing is essential, we simply do not have time to do explore all the options experimentally. We have to increasingly rely on model-based development and create simulation toolchains that will enable fast calibration and control design, Mikulski emphasises.
17 million euros of research funding and award-winning publications
Mikulski was appointed to the tenure track path as an Associate Professor four years ago. The tenure track system offers a path for a researcher to progress to the position of full professor through regular evaluations.
– The last four years have been extremely intensive work since the beginning. My major success has been the excessive research funding. In total, I have brought about 17 million euros in funding for the projects I have coordinated, of which around 5 million euros has been directly for our research group at the University of Vaasa, says Mikulski.
Mikulski says his main goal has been to advance modern internal combustion engine research at the University of Vaasa with deeper insight into the properties of enabling subsystems (fuels, combustors, ai-path components, after treatment and hybrid elements) as well as to create a skill set necessary to build a model-based control architecture. The aim is towards an adaptive, self-learning powertrain.
The project funding has enabled new research and the development of the internal combustion engine laboratory, which is part of the university's VEBIC laboratories.
– With these projects, our laboratory infrastructure is able to handle new combustion concepts, which makes us future-proof for the next 15 years, says Mikulski.
At the same time, the size of the research team has grown.
– We are now an internationally recognised research group that is attractive to the talented international students we want in Vaasa.
Mikulski also has a good record in scientific publications. His main highlight is his article about the combustion engine applications of waste tire pyrolytic oil, which was published in the high-ranking journal Progress in Energy and Combustion Science. He was also honoured by the Ostrobothnian Chamber of Commerce for his articles in the journal Applied Energy on low-emission HCCI and RCCI engines.
Professor Mikulski will now take responsibility for the academic discipline of energy technology at the University of Vaasa and he will lead the Efficient Powertrain research team.
From Poland via the Netherlands to Vaasa
Before coming to Vaasa, Mikulski worked in the Netherlands as a research scientist at TNO Automotive. Originally from Poland, he holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn.
Mikulski currently lives with his family in Raippaluoto and enjoys sailing, for which the Vaasa region provides excellent opportunities. He used to own a sailing school and a boat rental company in Poland.
- Name: Maciej Mikulski
- Born: 1982, Dzialdowo, Poland
- Lives in: Raippaluoto, Mustasaari
- Education: PhD in Mechanical Engineering, University of Warmia and Mazury, Master's degree in Mechatronics in Technical Education from Warsaw University of Technology and Master's degree in Theoretical Physics from Nicolaus Copernicus University
- Career: Professor of Energy Technology at the University of Vaasa from January 2023, before that Associate Professor (Tenure Track) of Internal Combustion Engine Solutions from 2019 to 2022, Researcher of Internal Combustion Engine Modelling at TNO Automotive from 2015 to 2019, Assistant Professor from 2014 to 2017, Head of Internal Combustion Engine Laboratory and Lecturer from 2009 to 2014 and Research Assistant and Lecturer from 2006 to 2009 at the University of Warmia and Mazury
- Hobbies: Sailing
- Surprising fact: Mikulski is a PYA-endorsed Yacht Captain (including tall ships and mega-yachts. He has owned a sailing school and boat rental business and served on the board of directors of an events office.