Wednesday, June 19

MIT Researchers Propose New Flex-Fuel Engine

There are more vehicles on the roads today than there ever have been, and approximately 77% of those vehicles are in need of maintenance and repairs. And with Americans driving their cars and trucks an average of 10,000 miles every year, there has been a heavy focus on making vehicles more eco-friendly. The past few years have seen vast improvements in increasing efficiency and reducing pollution. And now, MIT researchers have introduced a way to power heavy-duty trucks, like 18-wheelers, that would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Research scientist Daniel Cohn and principal research engineer Leslie Bromberg have developed a new concept that could potentially power large trucks solely with batteries. Their research found that a plug-in hybrid engine system, primarily powered by batteries, could significantly reduce, and possibly even eliminate, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions large trucks produce.

This flex-fuel hybrid option uses a spark ignition engine rather than a diesel engine. And with this new engine, trucks could travel the same amount of distance as diesel trucks. The flex-fuel model would run on either pure alcohol, pure gasoline, or a mixture of the two fuels.

According to Cohn, “We’ve been working for a number of years on ways to make engines for cars and trucks cleaner and more efficient, and we’ve been particularly interested in what you can do with spark ignition [as opposed to the compression ignition used in diesels], because it’s intrinsically much cleaner.”

When looking at the difference between diesel engines and gasoline-powered engines, those that run on pure gasoline result in only a tenth as much nitrogen oxide pollution, meaning air pollution is significantly less.

The engine the researchers designed is taking that even further because a flex-fuel engine that runs on a blend of fuels could emit even less greenhouse gas than those that run on pure gasoline. And the researchers say that if the methanol or ethanol used as fuel could be obtained from renewable resources, the net greenhouse gas emissions could be zero.

There are a lot of ways to make vehicles more sustainable, like using stainless steel, which can last for more than 100 years, but this new fuel design could make a massively positive impact on the environment.

And while automakers are making plans to develop and introduce all-electric heavy-duty trucks, Cohn and Bromberg believe that the cost and weight of the batteries needed to power a large vehicle for a long period of time would be too much, hence the combination of the plug-in hybrid engine working with better fuel options.

Fortunately, gasoline engines have become more efficient and eco-friendly within the past few years — that combined with the skyrocketing cost of diesel fuel, people are beginning to see that diesel for heavy trucking is no longer the best option.

So while there are several steps vehicle owners can take to keep their cars and trucks in good shape, like cleaning out the plugged ash in the DPF, this new flex-fuel model could make waves when it comes to helping the environment.

Cohn explains, “We don’t know which is going to be stronger, the desire to reduce greenhouse gases, or the desire to reduce air pollution… this technology has value for both challenges.”

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