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
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.