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Westport and GTI awarded $900,000 to advance natural gas combustion technology; ESI with high frequency corona discharge ignition

Westport Innovations Inc., together with the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), has been awarded US$900,000 towards a program to advance state-of-the-art natural gas combustion technology. The work will feature Westport’s enhanced spark ignited (ESI) natural gas engine technology (earlier post) with the integration and demonstration of high frequency corona discharge ignition on an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partner’s engine. The engine has a displacement of between 1 and 1.5 liters per cylinder and is targeted at medium-duty commercial vehicle applications.

Using 100% dedicated natural gas as fuel, Westport’s ESI technology optimizes the combustion and thermal efficiencies of the engine by taking full advantage of the ultra-high octane performance fuel properties of natural gas. The technology enables a “downsized” natural gas solution that is cost-competitive while providing similar levels of power, torque, and fuel economy to a larger diesel engine.

Unlike conventional systems, which initiate combustion by a spark, high frequency corona discharge ignition generates an extended corona discharge in the combustion chamber; under such conditions, even extremely lean fuel-air mixes are reliably ignited. BorgWarner, for one, is commercializing such a system under the name EcoFlash.

Westport ESI technology allows, for the first time, a spark-ignited natural gas engine to exceed the performance of a comparable state-of-the-art diesel engine. Next generation natural gas engines of this class will be smaller, lighter, lower cost and have even higher performance than modern diesel engines because we can exploit the advantages of natural gas as a high performance fuel with naturally lower emissions challenges.

This new program builds on our ESI foundation by integrating corona discharge ignition technology, which opens a number of new opportunities for even higher engine performance, efficiency and reliability at lower maintenance costs than current spark ignition hardware. We would expect that, if this program is successful, Westport ESI systems integrating corona discharge technology could become commercially available in as soon as four years.

—Brad Douville, Vice President Business Development for Westport

Of the total program funding, $750,000 is coming from the California Energy Commission (CEC) and $150,000 is being provided by the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas). Westport will contribute approximately $250,000 in additional funds for a total of $1.15 million.




Oho!  The NG engine suddenly acquires a power and weight advantage over the diesel, as well as the existing advantages of lower emissions and fuel cost.

I expect to see a push to build out NG fueling infrastructure about the time that the engine announcements are made.  After that, we'll see NG engines replacing diesels both in new service and at overhaul time and the liquid stuff will quietly go off into the sunset.

Nick Lyons

Cool. Questions:

1. What about NOx emissions from excess O2 during lean burn? Control with cooled EGR?
2. Could this work with lean-burn gasoline setup for similar benefits?

Inquiring minds want to know...


Definatly convert gasoline engines especially those trucks like ford 150 to NG. If meshed with the Metal organic framework storage foams that were revealed last week on this site the range will be in the 1000 mile range and refillable at home or business without a compressor. The buying by the MMbtu at current rate is $2.00 which equate to like $0.50 / gal gasoline. That will out compete hydrogen for interim til we eelectrify pasanger car fleets statewide.


You don't get NOx if the flame temperature is low enough.  This is one of the attractions of HCCI engines:  lean burn with low engine-out NOx.  If you can achieve this without the touchy mixture and temperature control issues of HCCI, so much more becomes possible.

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