Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Argonne's Futuristic Combustion Engine

Like it or not, whether we find ourselves driving purely electric cars, hydrogen cars, or nuclear-powered cars like in Back-to-The-Future, we will undoubtedly have residual contact with the conventional gas-burning engine for quite some time in the future. It might be in the form of cars driven in developing countries or it could simply be that other alternatives in the future here in the United States are simply too expensive for the regular driver to pick up the tab on the new technologies. For this reason, improving traditional engines to run on a mixture of fuels such as gasoline, ethanol, or butanol, would allow for a technology that improves the environment and domestic fuel supplies to become more mainstream in a faster time.
Argonne National Laboratories has announced plans to work diligently to create an engine that would be able to burn efficiently using any blend of gasoline, ethanol, or butanol, and do it in a way that optimizes mpg's and reduces emissions. To do this Argonne Labs proposes an improved sensor inside the fuel cylinder that will be able to monitor the oxygen-contents of the fuel and time the injection properly to optimizes the burning of the fuel in the engine. Remember, ethanol and butanol are different than gasoline in that they contain an OH (oxygen and hydrogen) group at one end of the molecule. The extra oxygen is what provides a better burn in ethanol and butanol and sustains higher octane ratings for the fuel. However, in conventional engines made today that are not flex-fuel, the computer can not distinguish the extra oxygen in the fuel and ends up injecting too much ethanol into the cylinder, resulting in fuel waste and lower miles-per-gallon.
The beauty of Argonne's idea is that if an engine such as this could be created in the near future, it could allow all new cars to be produced in what would essentially be a "flex-fuel" category but allow for all fuels to function equally well. Since such a technology would be cheap to implement, it could potentially go a long way in providing an alternative solution to conventional gasoline to people that might not be otherwise able to participate in this revolution.

No comments: