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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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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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