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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 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.


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