Meet new faculty member Fred Dryer

Mechanical engineering professor brings wealth of experience to South Carolina

Name: Frederick L. Dryer

Current position: Educational Foundation Distinguished Research Professor, mechanical engineering

“Our goal is to establish a group that is performing research with corporate as well as federal fiscal resources with an emphasis on applications-driven fundamentals needed to advance combustion-driven energy conversion efficiency improvements and emissions reductions. South Carolina is obviously a wonderful location for doing this, given that it is in the Sun Belt and there is a high density of energy-related industries relocating to this area.” 

What brought you to South Carolina? I became emeritus at Princeton in 2013, ending a 35-year teaching career, but with a continuing interest in academic research in thermal sciences. However, I found my applications-driven research difficult to continue as an emeritus faculty member. The location of USC (close to a number of energy conversion related industries), the presence of two of my former associates on the academic faculty in mechanical engineering (professors Tanvir Farouk and Sang Hee Won), and the insightful, enthusiastic nature of the new dean (Hossein Haj-Hariri) for innovating engineering education all contributed to my decision to come to USC. I really enjoy teaching through research endeavors rather than through lecturing.

What’s your current area of research? The capability of performing both industrially pre-competitive as well as proprietary research at Carolina is synergistic to advancing understanding of the fuel/energy conversion interface that controls not only efficiency/emissions properties, but dynamic operating characteristics of energy conversion systems. The issue is how to evolve fuel properties and combustion-driven energy conversion technologies to best achieve high conversion efficiency and reduced air pollutant emissions. Combustion-driven energy conversion technologies are far from mature technologies, especially in the new age of better materials, new manufacturing methods, real-time control advancements and evolving fuel properties. The potential to further increase conversion efficiencies (lower carbon emissions for the same task) is essential, as combustion will continue to be central to providing the energy needed to improve quality of life globally, especially in industrializing nations.

What are your goals? The goal of my colleagues and me is to establish a premier research endeavor contributing to the advancement of near-term energy conversion technologies, including those that can use waste to produce electric power, motive energy forms (alternative fuels) and high-value chemical products. We want to provide fundamental technical insights that address the “bottlenecks” in advancing technologically and economically sound solutions to current and future energy needs. Carolina is obviously a wonderful location for pursuing these goals, given the attractiveness of the Sun Belt region and the numbers of industries relocating to the region. A main interest is working closely with industry on near-term (five- to 10-year) technology advancements. Most important is how to better educate both undergraduate and graduate students who are inspired to pursue directed, applications-focused science to transition our world toward better living standards, both nationally and globally. I am of the opinion that the astute use of fossil fuels and combustion will be requisite to these goals well into the next century.

What are you most looking forward to about being at Carolina? The interactions with industrial collaborators, collaborations with other faculty within mechanical engineering and elsewhere at USC. Waste energy and high-value product conversions are very apropos subjects for Carolina in terms of processing and recycling waste. High efficiency/low pollutant emission technologies are also of significance to integrating renewable power sources efficiently. We’re also very interested in the distributed power generation both for industrial residential situations, including the impending integration on campus. Fast response to supply/load variations in terms of power generation is very important for integrating renewable energy — solar or wind — into the power spectrum. 

What other work have you done throughout your career?

I have worked on fire safety aspects of liquid and gaseous fuels, both on Earth and in low-gravity environments, chemical rocket propulsion including high-energy density propellants containing metal components, hazardous waste incineration, and alternative fuel combustion characterization. I’ve been a NASA microgravity researcher and involved with programs on isolated droplet combustion in drop towers, on shuttle flights and on the International Space Station since 1981. I’m part of a team that has been operating combustion experiments on ISS since 2009. In microgravity, the combustion environment is simplified with regard to its geometry, allowing detailed numerical modeling of the experimental observations to yield fundamental insights difficult to reveal in gravitational fields. The results help us to understand fire safety issues associated with low gravity conditions — for example, long term habitation on the moon or Mars, or in interplanetary flight. The results coming from the work are also contributing to improving energy conversion technologies on Earth.