Source: MIT Technology Review
Transonic Combustion, a startup based in Camarillo, CA, has developed a fuel-injection system it says can improve the efficiency of gasoline engines by more than 50 percent. A test vehicle equipped with the technology gets 64 miles per gallon in highway driving, which is far better than more costly gas-electric hybrids, such as the Prius, which gets 48 miles per gallon on the highway.
The key is heating and pressurizing gasoline before injecting it into the combustion chamber, says Mike Rocke, Transonic’s vice president of business development. This puts it into a supercritical state that allows for very fast and clean combustion, which in turn decreases the amount of fuel needed to propel a vehicle. The company also treats the gasoline with a catalyst that “activates” it, partially oxidizing it to enhance combustion.
I am generally leery of any new fuel efficiency technology that requires any additive that “activates” or “catalyzes” anything… but it’s very interesting that this new injection system does not require a spark-plug for ignition, instead injecting fuel directly into the combustion chamber and allowing the heat generated during compression ignite the fuel – much like a diesel engine. (Fun fact: The current crop of small diesel engines available in Europe are regularly scoring 60+ MPG in every-day driving.)
Once the fuel is injected into the piston, the heat and pressure are enough to cause the fuel to combust without a spark (similar to what happens in diesel engines), which also helps provide fast, uniform combustion. Ignition can be timed to happen just when the piston is reaching the optimal point, so it can convert as much of the energy in the gasoline into mechanical movement as possible, without wasting energy by heating up the combustion chamber walls, as happens in conventional technologies. The company has developed proprietary software that lets the system adjust the injection precisely depending on the load put on the engine.
So is this new injection technology a way to use the diesel cycle with widely available gasoline instead? Considering that refineries generally produce much more gasoline vs. diesel from each barrel of oil, this technology might allow us to take advantage of the diesel-engines superior efficiency without off-setting the gas/diesel ratios of production and distribution. Like modern (and prototype) FLEX-fuel engines, this new technology would allow drivers to “work within” our existing “gas station” distribution model, without requiring expensive new “refueling stations” or specialized refining and distribution networks that do not currently exist in any great numbers.
With gasoline prices generally unstable and on the rebound since the “crash” of 2008, modern mobile civilizations are counting on engineers to innovate creative solutions like this one.
“It’s a time of renaissance for internal combustion engines,” says William Green, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT.
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Fuelishness! Feed: Hummer now “Green” for Japan; Diesel Engine Biofuel Advances; Dolphin Wins Eco-Driving Challenge; Fuel Efficiency VS. The Tax Man in Washington State
- In Japan, the Hummer Is Now Officially Green — Starting this week, Japanese buyers of the hulking power machines from General Motors — which come with a 5.3-liter, 300 horsepower engine and roar to 60 miles per hour in eight seconds — receive a 250,000 yen ($2,780) subsidy under Japan’s new, looser fuel-efficiency standards for imported cars.
- Researchers develop “smart” diesel engine that runs on biofuel blend — Researchers from Cummings and Purdue University claim to have found a way to improve fuel efficiency in diesel engines that run on biodiesel fuel while cutting emission levels. The process involves an advanced “closed-loop control” approach for preventing diesel engines from emitting greater amounts of smog-causing nitrogen oxides when running on biodiesel fuels.
- Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne wins Audi fuel-efficiency driving challenge — The Audi Efficiency Challenge was designed to showcase the mileage and performance possibilities that Audi TDI clean diesel technology provides in real-world driving conditions.
- Fuel-efficient cars affecting Washington gas tax — Automobiles are more fuel-efficient, people are driving less and, increasingly, they are driving automobiles that aren’t powered by petroleum at all…”All of those things add up to the fact that we aren’t going to rely on the gas tax as being the mainstay of the future if we want to maintain, preserve and improve our transportation system,” said Paula Hammond, the state’s transportation secretary.
Take a look at this graph of average gas prices courtesy of GasBuddy.com and you’ll see that prices continue to rebound from the “crash” of 2008… which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
Not much has changed as far as our “oil addiction” since the “crash”. Looking back, it seems that Cash for Clunkers was the only national attempt at dealing with oil’s monopoly since the collapse, and the merits of that program as an energy policy are laughable.
It took a global economic collapse to undercut the oil gouging, something we can not afford to repeat. (I continue to assert that the uncertainty of affordable fuels contributed to the economic tsunami that brought world markets to their knees that summer.)
What are we going to do to shift oil from a strategic political and economic weapon to just “another” commodity that must compete with alternative sources?
1. I’ve long been a proponent of Flex-Fuel vehicles, since they offer the simple option to use purely petroleum based gasoline or alternative alcohol-blended (up to 85%) gasoline replacement fuels. Manufacturers “promised” to add Flex-Fuel capabilities into much of their fleets by 2010, yet most only add the systems to the most inefficient models, taking “credit” for making their fleet more efficient instead. Having Flex-Fuel vehicles on the road in great numbers will be an incentive for stations to carry more alcohol-blends, and at the same time allow motorists to travel far and wide without worry that they won’t find a filling station specific to their vehicle while the network of supply is created by the opportunity to serve this demand.
2. Small efficient diesel engines are hot sellers in Europe – 50% of all new car sales across the pond are diesels. Why? Because they are clean, quiet, powerful, last a long time, and get upwards of 65 to 80 MPG every day of the week. Plus you can fuel them with bio-diesel, and reduce the amount of petroleum based diesel fuel. Again, you can travel far and wide, taking advantage of bio-diesel when available – an incentive for stations to carry the product. Since bio-diesel is made closer to home, distribution is cheaper, jobs are created locally, and competition controls costs.
3. Hybrids are great technology for getting slightly better mileage from a gallon of gas – but they are all still 100% petroleum-dependent. Flex-Fuel Electric or Diesel Electric hybrids would allow motorists to offset even more of their oil addiction to alternatives, not just kick the can down the road a little further.
4. 100% electric vehicles are still not a replacement for the family car in most cases. High costs, limited range, and long recharging times limit options and create a situation where drivers must change habits (and hardware) to participate. Plus there is the battery problem, making exotic metal ore addiction the replacement for oil addiction.
5. Conservation (aka: eco-driving) is first-aid remedy immediately available for free (better than free when you consider the money savings) available to everyone right now. With modest changes to your driving habits, you can increase your fuel mileage 5% to over 25% no matter what you prefer to drive (including Hummers and Hybrids). And while “ecodriving” sounds like “hypermiling” to some people, in fact eco-driving is easy, courteous, and safer driving. It does require you to pay attention to operating your car (shouldn’t you be?), but relieves you from the urge to compete against those other drivers around you, and instead compete against the gas pump.
In the end, as we approach the future still addicted to oil we limit our geopolitical power and remain at the mercy of markets we do not have much control over politically. We have been at war for years thanks to oil, with no end in sight. While our planets poorest nations are prime real-estate for several bio-fuel industries that could lead them from poverty to prosperity, the “powers that be” lobby and maneuver to protect their monopoly on your mobility.
What are you doing to make progress? What do you see as our future?
PUTTING economy driving into practise was the aim of a group of drivers who took part in a Wexford to Dublin charity challenge. The Charity Eco-Drive Challenge was won by a driver who achieved a fuel economy figure of 87 mpg while driving a Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Style.
Organised in December by Ger Boland and Enda Newport from Ford dealer Boland’s of Ferrybank, Wexford, the Charity Eco-Drive Challenge saw six drivers tasked with driving from Wexford to Dublin (Stillorgan Park Hotel) and back to Wexford using as little fuel as possible.
Each driver’s fuel consumption was analysed and from the six drivers, Michael Forde of Curracloe, Co Wexford, came out on top with the most economic result of 87 mpg for the round trip. Among the six participants, the range of fuel consumption figures achieved went from Michael’s 87 mpg to 64 mpg.
To ensure fair play, each of the six participants drove the same route in identical Focus 1.6 TDCi models of the same age and similar mileage. The winning driver was given the option of nominating a charity to receive a donation of €1,000. Michael nominated the Wexford Women’s Refuge to receive an early Christmas present.
Speaking about his strategy for the challenge, Michael Forde said: “I wasn’t too concerned about maintaining a steady speed, the secret to eco-driving is engine revs.
“So long as I could keep the engine revs in the range of approximately 1500 to 1800, I knew that I would end up with a very respectable fuel consumption figure.”
Michael also highlighted tyre pressure as being another important element: “Most motorists don’t realise it but incorrect pressure settings mean more fuel used.”
The Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Style with alloy wheels, air conditioning, fog lights and Bluetooth, is available for around €21,750.
Once again a modern factory-built diesel-powered automobile has achieved astonishing fuel efficiency numbers in a driving competition. This isn’t futuristic technology that is “just around the corner” or “not yet cost effective”, these are current versions of diesel-powered cars that roll off of assembly lines in other parts of the world every day – and are affordable to ordinary people.
So, why are we in the US not yet able to buy these ultra-efficient little diesel-powered cars (Ford Focus ECOnic, Mini-D) that are “old news” in other parts of the world (as of 2007 about 50% of new cars sold in Europe have diesel engines) and then choose to run them on modern bio-diesel fuels that are slowly coming to market?
Embracing modern diesel engine technology also avoids the chicken-and-egg problem that other alternative fuels suffer from… US-based drivers can fuel their zippy and efficient little diesel-powered cars and light trucks, easily getting better than 60 MPG every day on petroleum-based diesel, then get even “greener” when the bio-varieties gain investment and availability (thanks to the greater number of vehicles on the road that can consume their products).
Or you can brew your own bio-diesel – or buy from a local bio-diesel producer – more on that later…
AS an aside, Rudolph Diesel, the man who invented the engine design that still bears his name “was also a well-respected thermal engineer and a social theorist. Diesel’s inventions have three points in common: they relate to heat transfer by natural physical processes or laws; they involve markedly creative mechanical design; and they were initially motivated by the inventor’s concept of sociological needs. Rudolf Diesel originally conceived the diesel engine to enable independent craftsmen and artisans to compete with industry.”
Diesel was a brilliant inventor and understood exactly how competitive his engine would become, but did he realize that the industries his engine would “threaten” a hundred years later would be the oil industry and the tax man?