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MIT researchers work on a ethanol direct injection engine

MIT researchers are developing an automotive power plant that promises up to 30% greater fuel economy than traditional gasoline engines. The new engine, which would be powered by ethanol, would be production ready within five years.

MIT says that it can boost fuel efficiency by directly injecting ethanol into the cylinder. Direct injection technology is already being used on a number of gasoline engine vehicles including the Mazda MazdaSpeed3, Lexus IS350 and Pontiac Solstice GXP. Direct injection allows for a finer control of fuel and injection timings compared to traditional fuel injected vehicles.

Knocking sounds, which are caused by spontaneous combustion, would be eliminated allowing ethanol engines to use heavily-boosted turbocharging systems and much higher compression ratios. The use of direct injection combined with ethanol is what allows for the 30% increase in fuel economy. MIT goes so far as to say that if every vehicle in the United States were equipped with such an engine, yearly automotive fuel consumption would drop from 140 billion gallons to 110 billion gallons.

"To actually affect oil consumption, we need to have people want to buy our engine, so our work also emphasizes keeping down the added cost and minimizing any inconvenience to the driver," said Daniel Cohn, of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center.

MIT researchers believe that an ethanol-based direct injection engine would add just $1,000 to the cost of a new vehicle instead of the $3,000 to $5,000 seen with hybrids. What's more amazing is that the engine will be half the size of conventional gasoline engines. But while all of this sounds nice, the new technology will be for naught if more ethanol pumping stations aren't added to our existing fuel delivery infrastructure.

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Five Years
By TomZ on 10/27/2006 11:01:31 AM , Rating: 2
I would like to see this type of technology come to fruition, however, I think the researchers are very naive if they think they can get this into production in five years. That's not going to happen - the job is too big, and it will take twice that long, minimum, if all goes well.

Also, I wonder how they will address the ozone/smog issue associated with burning methanol. I doubt this problem can be solved for only $1000 incremental cost.

RE: Five Years
By TomZ on 10/27/2006 11:03:00 AM , Rating: 2
sorry, typo: methanol -> ethanol.

RE: Five Years
By Dfere on 10/27/2006 11:10:05 AM , Rating: 1
Even assuming the environmental issues gets worked out, you still have all issues with business "product" marketing. New technologies do not get added into everyy vehcile at once, with the exception of safety equipment, in cars. An some items never get introduced into any class of vehicle, such as turbochargers (which are an excellent compromise to having extra power when needed, but keeping average driving mileage down).

I do not think this will be introduced into the low end line of cars until a very long time from now (if ever). I have no doubt that this will be added as quickly as possible to most US high margin profit lines and possibly, fleet lines of cars once any one of the manufacturers decides to offer it.

RE: Five Years
By GoatMonkey on 10/27/2006 11:54:03 AM , Rating: 3
I think it could be on the market that fast. We already have a lot of cars on the road that will run E85 (85% ethanol/15% gas). From what I've read about it when the cars run on pure E85 the miles per gallon drop about 25 to 30 percent.

The way around that is exactly what these students have done. Ethanol has a higher octane rating than standard gas, so it can be compressed more before exploding. That means that you can add a turbocharger and maybe even increase the compression ratio at the same time. In a standard gas engine you normally decrease the compression ratio when you add any forced induction.

Saab did this already with one of their show cars not too long ago and showed an increase in MPG when running E85 because of the turbocharger. I don't think it was as high as 30% better, but at least it wasn't the normal loss that others have seen.

The real problem with E85 is that you lose some lubrication inside the cylinder that normal gas gives you, and it can shorten the life of your engine. If they've found a way to do that it would seem more significant to me.

RE: Five Years
By OrSin on 10/27/2006 11:52:24 AM , Rating: 3
First several ethanol based engines already exist. Second 40% of all gas engines built now could be converter to ethanol with very little work. Third Ethanol is a very clean burning fuel.

The slow down is storing 100% ethanol since it alot more flamable then gas. Also direct inject is more difficult alos becuase of its low flash piont. Thier are many places out side of the cities that you can buy 30-40% ethonal/gas mixures. Almost all cars can run on this mixture with no modification.

Ethanol would have replaced gas decades ago if they could raise its flash piont to the same as gasoline.

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