ArvinMeritor / MIT Plasma Fuel Reformer
11 June 2004
ArvinMeritor, an $8 billion (sales) auto supplier, just rolled out a suite of clean air technologies for commercial and light duty diesels and gasoline engines. Material from its technical briefing is here.
ArvinMeritor aims to take leadership of the emerging systems market for the undercarriage -- in other words, packaging undercarriage (exhaust) systems for easy (and widespread) use in different vehicles. This new portfolio of clean air solutions can be packaged for every engine builder and truck OEM.
Of particular long-term significance is the official release of the Plasma Fuel Reformer. (Image at right, Click to enlarge.) The Plasma Fuel Reformer uses an electrical plasma (a strong, continuous spark) to combust partially a mixture of air and the vechicles hydrocarbon fuel -- diesel or gasoline.
Because there is deliberately insufficient air to support combustion, the fuel dissociates to create a hydrogen-rich gas rather than burning. That hydrogen-rich gas can be used to improve or even enable the operation of other exhaust emission systems.
The Plasma Fuel Reformer stems from work done by and licensed from MITs Plasma Science and Fusion Center . Seven years in development, the Plasma Fuel Reformer -- or Plasmatron as MIT called it -- could have an enormous impact on emissions and fuel efficiency. From MIT in 2003:
The team is finding that the device could make vehicles cleaner and more efficient, with a potentially significant impact on oil consumption.
If widespread use of plasmatron hydrogen-enhanced gasoline engines could eventually increase the average efficiency of cars and other light-duty vehicles by 20 percent, the amount of gasoline that could be saved would be around 25 billion gallons a year, [Daniel] Cohn [one of the leaders of the team and head of the Plasma Technology Division at MITs PSFC] said. That corresponds to around 70 percent of the oil that is currently imported by the United States from the Middle East.
The Bush administration has made development of a hydrogen-powered vehicle a priority, [John] Heywood [John Heywood, director of MITs Sloan Automotive Lab] noted. That's an important goal, as it could lead to more efficient, cleaner vehicles, but is it the only way to get there? Engines using plasmatron reformer technology could have a comparable impact, but in a much shorter time frame, he said.
The work was funded by the Department of Energys FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies Program and by ArvinMeritor.
ArvinMeritor expects the Plasma Fuel Reformer to be in production in 2010. Currently the device is undergoing in-vehicle testing on heavy and light trucks and buses. ArvinMeritor is also exploring using the device in gasoline engines to support ultralean turbocharging, with resulting emissions reduction and fuel efficiency. To that end, it is partnering with Ingenieurgesellschaft Auto und Verkehr (IAV), a German automotive research and development provider.
A good background piece on ArvinMeritor and the other approaches to emissions reduction is here.
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