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Argonne, Ford and FCA partnering to study natural gas and gasoline blending for 50% cut in gasoline, 10% boost in efficiency and power density

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are partnering with Ford Motor Company and FCA US LLC in pre-competitive research to study blending natural gas and gasoline using natural gas direct injection to enable more efficient engines. The project is a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) resulting from the 2014 DOE Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

The project’s objective is to understand potential benefits and demonstrate targeted blending of gasoline and natural gas in an engine that uses half as much gasoline and shows a 10% increase in overall efficiency and a 10% improvement in power density.

The pre-competitive research is focused on exploring technical concepts and development of engine technology that simultaneously uses natural gas and traditional gasoline to maximize the best characteristics of both fuels, while reducing oil consumption and making the most of the recent boom in natural gas supplies in the United States.

Natural gas has much higher resistance to knocking, which is caused when the fuel/air mixture in an engine’s cylinder auto-ignites. Mixing natural gas with gasoline would allow the engine to run without fuel enrichment and with optimal spark timing, thereby enabling higher engine efficiency and minimizing conditions that might otherwise cause knocking and potential engine damage.

The team plans to explore technical opportunities to adjust ratios of the two fuels on the fly based on the load of the engine. For example, the engine under heavy load could run more efficiently with more natural gas, whereas under lower load it could use a blend heavier in gasoline. Additional factors that might influence the mixing ratio include the amount of each fuel available on-board as well as the engine’s thermal state.

Project director Thomas Wallner at Argonne said that the underlying assumption of the project is that proper blending of the fuels can lead to substantial gains in efficiency. Although there have been other investigations of natural gas/gasoline blending, the Argonne-led project appears to be the first investigating the use of natural gas direct injection in such an approach.

We did an extensive literature study when we developed the proposal together with Ford and FCA last year. There is some existing work on blending NG and gasoline, but as far as I know, the combination with NG direct injection is unique since commercially available LD NG DI hardware is still in development.

—Thomas Wallner

Argonne researcher Jim Sevik tightens the fuel rail on a natural gas direct-injection system at the lab. The engine is an automotive-size single-cylinder research engine that operates with gasoline as well as natural gas. Photo by Wes Agresta / Argonne National Laboratory. Click to enlarge.

Wallner said vehicles that use both gasoline and natural gas have been around for some time, but what most people think of as a dual-fuel vehicle is actually more of a bi-fuel vehicle. Bi-fuel vehicles have compressed natural gas and gasoline on board, but typically use only one fuel at a time. A bi-fuel vehicle may use all its natural gas, then switch over to gasoline. The research concept being studied under the project will use both fuels at the same time.

Innovation in Ford powertrain research is constantly progressing. This project provides the opportunity to advance alternative fuel technology, particularly the technical challenges and potential of natural gas direct injection and its integration with the gasoline fuel system in dual-fuel strategies.

—Tom McCarthy, chief engineer, Ford Powertrain R&A

The project is funded by DOE’s Office of Vehicle Technologies within the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. It will take advantage of many of Argonne’s recognized core and enabling capabilities, including modeling of combustion processes, engine optimization, vehicle modeling and X-ray diagnostics at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.



It won't work because of infrastructure problems.


@gor, you have #nailedit

That is EXACTLY the problem with any of these schemes. Guys, you're 20 years too late to do something like this. So...we're going to do 5 years of research, followed by 5 years of chicken and egg rollout issues (there's no cars that need this so why build the infrastructure and vice versa).

By the time this remotely hits any kind of reasonable volume, it would be 2025 and we'll have BEVs with 500mile range and <10 minute charge time with 100,000 charge points.

This is yet another distraction which ignores the realities of rolling out a new system.

Steve Reynolds

Infrastructure is an issue for anything new, but unless oil stays cheap, long haul trucking is likely to switch to natural gas fairly quickly for the cost savings. When most truck stops have NG available, this blending could be practical.
A 10% efficiency increase combined with the lower carbon content of NG seems worthwhile to me.


@Steve, I was thinking about that as well. But if they're looking at long haul trucking then they need to investigate diesel with NG, not gasoline.

And yes, ANYTHING new will have infrastructure issues. So what makes them think yet another new infrastructure is going to happen while the EV side is already underway?
This just further splits the oil and gas side between the Hydrogen side and now this? And to do cars as well as long haul trucking they'd have to research and deploy both new technologies.

Silly waste of time to consider it.


I think everyone is missing it here, other than I agree it maybe geared towards over the road type trucks. Diesels price point is no picnic and the Urea Injection is a pain. no cooled and or uncooled EGR as well to deal with. Yes Natural Gas infrastructure is not all here, so why not use Gasoline to supplement it because that infrastructure is? No mention that that engine could go to one fuel as in a limp-home mode if you will should one run out. The 10% downsizing and a 10% improvement in power density hmmm, might that take the Eco-Boost system to a new level? Note, they do not mention if that was tried with Eco-Boost with the research, but it is already DI. IMHO read through the tea-leaves, my guess is they are trying to trick the engine out as if it running really high octane ( via nat gas ) to get higher BMEP's via compression ratios or turbo boost, that would be the power density increase of 10%.


I said it won't work... Is it clear now & ?? There is the infrastructure, higher costs, many engineering difficulties, 2 system instead of one, lack of investment from gas station for eating their own market. Do you think a gas station owner will invest 600 000$ to sale just a little nat gas while selling fewer gas, this is impossible. Do you think a car manufacturers will want to build a car like that and offer a garentee , what will happen to the fuel pump, injectors, catalytic converter, gas tanks, fuel gauges. etc. The car will cost 6 000$ more and won't sale.

I said it clearly in my first post and I repeat, NO bi-fuel nat gas + gasoline car because there won't be any market. Don't argue with this, this is simple to understand.

Maybe it can work with big tractor-trailer trucks but they study and invest some money till 10 years yet no results at all from Westport innovations and clean energy fuels that lost millions in this project.


About the only special thing about this is the direct NG injection; everything else has been done.  Note that this is yet another riff on the octane-on-demand schemes that we've been seeing in GCC for years.  I am somewhat disappointed that we're not seeing methanol in this role, because it seems superior to most of the things proposed thus far.

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