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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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By therealnickdanger on 10/27/2006 11:45:57 AM , Rating: 1
Ethanol is ridiculous as a substitute for good 'ol gasoline. Consumer Reports just did a big report on E85 VS Gas:

It requires more energy to produce than gas, is heavily subsidized (costing us more as a whole), is less efficient than gas (lower MPG), provides only marginal power gains, and marginally lower emissions.

Why do people insist on subsidizing lesser technology? Oh yeah, greed, that's why. Funny how people are willing to substitute "Big Oil" for "Big Corn". You're still gonna pay...

This work by MIT is crucial if ethanol expects to make it as a real alternative. A 30% efficiency gain would put it about on par with gasoline, but so long as gasoline remains the cheapest of the fuels to produce, it will never be toppled.

RE: Why?
By dice1111 on 10/27/2006 11:54:57 AM , Rating: 2
What kind of horse power are we going to see out of these things? Will it increase due to the higher compression ratio's, or decrease because of the fact that ethanol is used instead of gasoline? Most likely the later.

North America, a huge automobile comsumer, is in the unfortunate mind set of "Go big or go home". If these engines can put out some hard working ponies (high HP) then they will sell themselves.

A nice ride with an efficient engine that is less destructive to the environment while beating your neibours pimp mobile off the line... that has bragging rights all over it.

RE: Why?
By therealnickdanger on 10/27/2006 12:24:35 PM , Rating: 1
That's what sucks about ethanol (or at least E85) is that while on average it costs 5-10 cents less at the pump, much of its cost is paid for via our tax dollars, making it more expensive in reality. Depending on the engine E85 does produce more power than gasoline, there's no argument there, but with more power generally comes more consumption, and since E85 gets substantially less MPG than its gasoline cousins, you end up using more fuel, almost negating the "cleaner" emissions.

If I drive like Miss Daisy, I can get 26MPG out of my 5.7L 340HP/390TQ V8 on non-ethanol blends. If I get less-restrictive headers, cats, and exhaust, I can get closer to 30MPG while also upping my HP/TQ. If ethanol can do that while costing less (including subsidies) and clean up their production act, I would use it in a car. For now, I avoid it like the plague.

RE: Why?
By mindless1 on 10/27/2006 1:01:48 PM , Rating: 1
You can't have it both ways. When they're citing cost and efficiency and size, it's not to increase power, it's an optimistically tainted comparison of same.

North America is not of the mindset of "go big", note how few giant and technically advanced engines there are. The mindset is "go cheap" or "go simple".

Go simple is a serious concern though, in today's disposible society it would not be hard for researchers to overlook some of the real world variables that could cause shorter lifespans, escalating costs to manufacture, maintain and replace parts if not entire engine.

Using a lighter engine, turbo charging and direct injection is not new, it seems more than anything these folks are just trying to polish a slight spin on existing tech for profit, without enough experience on the industry to know if the result will be as reliable. Remember that not everyone pays a highly trained mechanic to work on their vehicle, the lower class simply cannot afford this in many cases and will have to be able to work with and repair this technology.

Lots of ideas in a lab just don't pan out for practical reasons. I do hope more hybrid fuel vehicles are produced, but feel the slightly higher efficiency of the proposed designs is not enough for any long term implementation by automakers.

RE: Why?
By kruege311 on 10/27/2006 3:36:14 PM , Rating: 4
"North America is not of the mindset of 'go big'"

Sorry mindless1, I couldn't help but chuckle at this one. Does anyone remember the big block engine craze? And when it comes to vehicles themselves, North Americans love SUVs, trucks, and now we've got like 3 versions of the Hummer. Last I checked we love big houses too. Then there are those sporting events that we like to have bigger every year like the superbowls and whatnot. Oh and let's not forget those super size fries. :)

This isn't meant as a personal jab at the intent of your post as I realize you're talking about engines specifically. It's just that notion of Americans not being of the "go big" mindset just cracked me up.

RE: Why?
By mindless1 on 10/28/2006 6:15:45 PM , Rating: 2
North Americans live in the new world, one that has larger expanses and was rapidly built (and still is). It is reasonable to assume trucks and other hauling vehicles will be of benefit. Relatively speaking, what is the horsepower to weight ratio of the typical light truck to a European car? Not so different as you suggest, relatively speaking it's a proporitionally sized engine, not the biggest most powerful thing that can be shoehorned in under the hood.

Sure there are exceptions like the Hummer. Tell us what % of all cars on the road are hummers.

You want desperately to cite examples of large things but ignore any examples of small things. What about Ford Fiesta? Piece of junk car, but I'll bet those sold as well as hummers. What about small sized anything?

All you have done is noted that in a free market with a lot of disposible income, people will buy more.

Just because somebody offers a big something-or-other for sale, does it mean everyone buys it? Certainly not, the things that don't sell so well tend to be the ones that need advertising, if not merely the profit leaders by virtue of the higher price.

Maybe some "go big", in any country when they can afford to, but to generalize Americans do is a silly stereotype.

RE: Why?
By slunkius on 10/30/2006 1:11:43 AM , Rating: 2
got to agree with kruege311. since i live in europe, it very easy to notice which cars are american. these are longer, wider, sometimes they are simply huuuge (escalade or dodge ram - and don't say people in america buy these to haul stuff :)).

RE: Why?
By Ringold on 10/30/2006 7:42:32 PM , Rating: 2
Mindless1 has hit the nail on the head on this one guys.

I don't think people that'd disagree are actually in tune with even the simplest things going on in the industry. Ford and GM arent staring in to the abyss just because of labor costs. Market share is sliding, and even the venerable F150 is getting nailed in the most recent quarter. Meanwhile, fuel-efficient Toyota & Honda models can barely be produced fast enough.

Anyones guess what the next long-term trend will be in autos (efficiency, or perhaps technical superiority or just plain style), but just like the economy we're all comfortable with now and from the last hundred years, it's over and something else is dawning. Might as well get used to it.

RE: Why?
By glennpratt on 10/27/2006 12:15:18 PM , Rating: 2
Ethanol is less efficient then gas in 'flex fuel' vehicles because they have a low CR to utilize regular gasoline. Ethanol would not be less efficient in motors designed for it (or variable compression/boost engines); ethanol has a higher octane (more energy by volume).

Yes, ethanol production started out subsidized and it's comparatively inefficient, but this can change. Just about everything is inefficient compared to pumping oil out of the ground. Energy production is a huge, global issue that free markets alone won’t solve without a lot of pain. And FYI, corn isn't the only (or best) way to make ethanol (see sugarcane, switch grass...).

RE: Why?
By TomZ on 10/27/2006 12:53:34 PM , Rating: 2
ethanol has a higher octane (more energy by volume)

Higher octane number doesn't mean more energy by volume - it means higher resistance to autoignite (ref. Also, gasoline has more energy by volume than ethanol.

In the U.S., switching from gasoline to ethanol as Brazil has done is not a viable option. Let's not even talk about that possibility since it makes no sense. We have nowhere near the capacity to produce that much ethanol domestically.

RE: Why?
By NullSubroutine on 10/27/2006 10:55:53 PM , Rating: 2
i live in iowa and i know that the us corn production could be increased. i know a lot of farmers that fallow the land because they are paid so by the government to do it.

everyone here seems to complain about subsidies so ill just make a few quick points. the subsidies were to prevent drastic price fluxuations that would force out small farmers.

if there were a consistant high demand for corn subsidies wouldnt really be needed and there wouldnt be a redundent price at the pump.

you all talk about supply and demand, bla blah blah. it must be impossible to imagine that if there was a higher demand for ethonal (via corn) that more farmers would produce it!

RE: Why?
By Wwhat on 10/27/2006 11:31:57 PM , Rating: 2
Surely corn isn't the most efficient growth to produce fuels? aren't there better plants for that?

RE: Why?
By Madellga on 10/28/2006 2:18:03 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, there is. Sugar cane.

RE: Why?
By Hoser McMoose on 10/29/2006 2:58:58 PM , Rating: 2
There are many crops that can produce fuels and a lot of them are better than corn. As others have mentioned, sugar cane is a better crop for ethanol, though it requires a different climate.

However if you start looking at things like biodiesel rather than just ethanol, then your options can really open up. Rapeseed is one that is being used fairly widely, and mustard is a closely related alternative. There are also some VERY promising experiments with growing algae for the production of fuel.

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