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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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Ethanol is a complete bust..
By hellokeith on 10/27/2006 11:50:46 AM , Rating: 2
in the US.

The US simply does not have the right kind of agricultural environment for advantageous crop production. Corn-based ethanol is dirty-burning, and its production is sucking aquifers dry left and right.

Ethanol works well in Brasil, but they have a different climate.

The US would be much better off drilling in Alaska for mid-term oil needs and continuing hydrogen fuel cell research for long-term needs.

RE: Ethanol is a complete bust..
By TomZ on 10/27/2006 12:09:09 PM , Rating: 4
The automotive industry agrees with you, which is why you see R&D investments mainly in hybrid, and secondarily in fuel cells.

E85 was done mainly because it was a simple modification and didn't require a large investment, but as others have commented, E85 makes no sense as a real solution.

Researchers at MIT can do whatever they want, but it is the investments at automotive manufacturers and their suppliers that cause real products to actually show up in the marketplace.

RE: Ethanol is a complete bust..
By Madellga on 10/28/2006 2:12:36 AM , Rating: 2
The automotive industry is looking only on the technology to power the vehicles, but not looking into the energy matrix behind it. I would like to see a study showing where are they going to get the H2 needed for the fuel cells.
Hybrid is a hype, too expensive and not replacing oil at all.

The issue is the energy matrix - oil must be replaced, not what kind of engined is used.

By Hoser McMoose on 10/29/2006 3:45:41 PM , Rating: 2
There have been numerous studies of the "well to wheel" energy cycle for hydrogen vs. gasoline. The results, however, are not 100% conclusive. Some studies I've seen have shown a 20-30% improvement, others have shown a 20-30% loss. There are a lot of factors involved, from the type of vehicle used, the type of engine (gas vs. diesel, straight spark-ignition vs. hybrid) and especially the source of hydrogen.

For the source of hydrogen, most seem to agree that the only viable option (both economically and from an energy standpoint) is hydrocarbons. Mostly it would just involve reducing the use of oil in favor of methane (natural gas). However one of the biggest advantages of hydrogen as a fuel is that the same fuel can be produced through dozens of different means, unlike gasoline which is pretty much a single-source deal.

Generally speaking though, hydrogen is a non-starter (for vehicles at least, it has it's uses elsewhere). The infrastructure isn't there and it almost certainly won't be there within the foreseeable future (certainly not in the next 20-30 years). The cost is absolutely enormous while the potential advantages are too small. Per-vehicle costs are also significantly higher and would probably need 20+ years of mass production AFTER the infrastructure is in-place in order for them to be even remotely cost-competitive. This is why it's been touted so much by the car companies and the US government. A small investment in hydrogen fuel cell research lets them claim that they are being environmentally friendly and planning for the future without spending the real money required to find actual solutions (note that you will never see any firm dates attached to any hydrogen fuel cell plans).

As for hybrids, they are a brilliant technology. It's the only option that actually REDUCES the total energy requirement of a vehicle rather than moving it around. Hybrids work by using energy that is otherwise discarded as heat. What's more, they can be incorporated alongside basically ANY solution, be it gas, diesel, ethanol, or even fuel cells. There are cost involved, but the aren't all that out of line. Right now the break-even point (where the added purchasing cost is outweighed by the reduced fuel costs) is somewhere around 200,000-350,000km and dropping. Even without tax breaks and subsidies hybrids start to make economic sense for those that do a lot of city driving.

RE: Ethanol is a complete bust..
By number999 on 10/27/2006 6:19:15 PM , Rating: 2
drilling in Alaska for mid-term oil needs

What would be better would be forcing better fuel standards and closing loopholes in the fuel standards than drilling for oil in the artic.

SUV's, some of which will never be used to carry a 2x4 let alone be used fully are classified as utility vehicles.
Bush put a $100 000 tax break for industry to buy utility vehicles which were used to buy SUV's instead, where's the sense in that.

RE: Ethanol is a complete bust..
By WxGuy192 on 10/27/2006 7:55:32 PM , Rating: 1
The US would be much better off drilling in Alaska for mid-term oil needs and continuing hydrogen fuel cell research for long-term needs.

The amount of oil in Alaska would sustain U.S. consumption needs for less than a year by itself. Alaskan oil is not a solution to our needs in and of itself. It's one small component that may help decrease the amount of foreign oil we import. Then again, given that consumption increases annually, we probably would never actually decrease the amt of oil we import, unless we get more out of efficiency increases, conservation, and Alaskan oil than the increase in oil consumption (which I find unlikely). In 2003, the US consumed ~20 mil. barrels of oil per day. From a Dept of Energy report: "In all three resource cases, ANWR coastal plain oil production begins in 2013 and grows during most of the forecast. In the mean oil resource case, ANWR oil production peaks at 876,000 barrels per day in 2024". By 2024, the US will probably be consuming on the order of 30-40 million barrels per day (likely more), so we're looking at Alaskan oil providing ~2% of the oil we use. Don't expect it to impact prices much.

In addition, I've heard a lot about the growth of India and China causing oil price inflation. Again, let's not kid ourselves! Per 2004 consumption data, the US used about 3 times as much oil than China. Sure, growth is expanding in China and other emerging markets, but the US still consumes WAY more oil than any other country. We either hope and pray for new technology, or we make a serious lifestyle change to drastically reduce consumption.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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