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DOE developing Optima initiative: co-optimization of fuels and engines for extreme boost in system fuel efficiency above current policy targets

Optima is targeting a vehicle-fuels system approach to far exceed the improvements in vehicle energy consumption and the greenhouse gas intensity of the energy source. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at several DOE national laboratories are organizing a new initiative—New Fuels and Vehicle Systems Optima (Optima)—targeting the development and market introduction of co-optimized new fuels and light-, medium- and heavy-duty engines which together could achieve very significant performance improvements. Specifically, Optima is targeting a reduction in per-vehicle petroleum consumption by 30% vs. the 2030 base case, which is constrained to using today’s fuels.

This goal reflects contributions from both improved engines (7–14% reduction in fuel consumption) and improved fuels (with substitution of up to 30% low-GHG biofuel blend stocks). Another goal is accelerating the deployment of advanced biofuels to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard Program 2030 goal of 15 billion gallons/year of advanced biofuel—a sharp contrast to the low volumes currently predicted by the International Energy Agency for the US in 2030. At a fleet level, Optima is intended to produce an additional 9–14% fleet GHG reduction by 2040.

At the SAE 2015 High Efficiency IC Engine Symposium in Detroit this week, Dr. Robert Wagner, Director of the Fuels Engines and Emissions Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, introduced the Optima initiative to that audience, observing that:

We’ve heard discussion of co-optimization of fuels/engines for a very long time. These discussions used to bother me because I felt they were often focused on making a magic thermodynamic molecule, and that is not going to happen. But here a team has come together that is settling on real directions and putting together a plan looking for low greenhouse gas fuels to work well with redesigned engines and to be made in billion-gallon quantities. I always felt that was missing in the past.

To yield better solutions with faster time-to-market, Optima is already engaging with vehicle manufacturers, fuel producers, and regulators regarding an RD&D plan that encompasses two concurrent phases:

  • An initial phase focused on introducing new fuel/vehicle combinations by 2025, building on current gasoline and diesel engines; and

  • A parallel, more ambitious phase focused on kinetically controlled combustion technologies with fuels that enable maximum engine performance.

For each of these engine classes, the proposed RD&D co-optimization approach involves simultaneously determining the fuel properties that maximize engine performance, and identifying the low carbon fuel and petroleum blendstocks that can best provide those properties at the lowest cost and environmental impact.

Optima 2   Optima 2
Optima will feature integrated R&D efforts and a comprehensive end-to-end approach. Source: BETO. Click to enlarge.

Lifecycle and techno-economic analyses will guide selection of new fuel candidates that can be scaled up and deployed rapidly, economically, and sustainably at the required scale of tens of billions of gallons per year.

With appropriate funding, Optima expects to complete R&D on gasoline and diesel fuels/engines by 2020 and kinetically-controlled combustion and advanced fuels by the middle of 2025. Approximately five years are required to introduce new engines into the market. New fuel deployment timelines will depend on the nature and extent of changed needed in biorefinery and conventional refinery operations.

DOE has requested $25 million in the FY2016 Congressional Budget Request to fund the Optima initiative; $17 million from the Vehicle Technology Office and $10 million from the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). Annual investments commensurate with the scale of the challenge will be required from FY17 through the early 2020s to achieve the aggressive Optima targets.

A DOE workshop on Optima is planned for June.


Liviu Giurca

Anticipating these actions, extreme boost engines were already proposed. See

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