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Birmingham study finds butanol-gasoline blend reduces GDI engine-out carbonaceous emissions; similar NOx

A team at the University of Birmingham reports that a blend of 33% v/v of butanol in EN228 commercial gasoline containing 5% of ethanol (B33) reduces GDI (gasoline direct injection) engine-out carbonaceous emissions, while maintaining similar levels of NOx emissions when compared to standard gasoline combustion at low and medium engine loads. However, the physical and chemical properties of butanol (i.e. viscosity and heat of vaporization) resulted in a negative impact on carbon monoxide emissions at low load due to combustion inefficiencies.

The addition of EGR showed a general reduction of gaseous emissions and particulate matter (except unburned hydrocarbons), a trend that was more significant for B33 at medium load. EGR improved both Brake Specific Fuel Consumption (BSFC) and Brake Thermal Efficiency (BTE) for the studied fuels with respect to baseline conditions. Their paper is published in the journal Fuel.

Gasoline direct injection engines offer better fuel efficiency from their increased compression ratio, lower pumping losses, higher volumetric efficiency and more accurate injection control. GDI engines also reduce pre-ignition and knock tendencies as compression temperatures are lower; an enhancement in thermal efficiency by a reduction of heat losses is thus possible.

On the other hand, GDI engines have reported to increase the concentration of the Particulate Matter (PM) emissions. The main sources of PM formation in GDI engines are identified as fuel piston wetting, injector fuel deposits and inadequate air-fuel mixing. Consequently, the diffusive combustion of rich-in-fuel areas promotes PM formation, and also wall wetting by fuel impingement also produces an increment of unburned hydrocarbons (HCs) and carbon monoxide (CO) due to a significant grade of incomplete combustion. For this reason, emission standards such as Euro 6c, which includes a strict limit of 6 x 1011 particles per kilometer and comes into force in September 2017, are boosting the development of new technologies to reduce emissions in GDI.

A feasible short-to-midterm solution for addressing additional emissions reduction with a decreased in the demand of high quality fossil fuels is to use renewable bio-alcohols fuels such as butanol, which is considered a second generation of renewable transportation fuel. Butanol provides complementary physicochemical properties to gasoline blends for decreasing regulated emissions as well as improving combustion. Amongst these properties, higher octane number and oxygen content extend the knock limit for advanced spark timings and improve combustion efficiency, respectively, leading to further CO and total hydrocarbons (THCs) reductions. Furthermore, butanol’s higher latent heat of vaporization results in further cooling charge effect in GDI engines, which increases the volumetric and thermal efficiency. The higher latent heat of vaporization combined with its lower adiabatic flame temperature can also assist in NOx reduction.

… The aim of this investigation is to assess and to further the understanding on the effect of the utilization of high butanol fraction blends on combustion characteristics, gaseous and particulate matter emissions in GDI engines.

—Hergueta et al.

For the study, the team used a fou-cylinder, 2.0-liter Ford GDI engine. The engine was operated at stoichiometric conditions where the oxygen concentration was controlled by a Heated Exhaust Gas Oxygen (HEGO) sensor.

Ford’s calibration strategy to reduce pumping losses is the utilization of valve overlapping to increase the residuals. This technique is known as internal EGR, where the intake valve opening (IVO) was set at 11 CAD bTDC (Crank Angle Degree before Top Dead Center), and the exhaust valve closing (EVO) is at 57 CAD aTDC (Crank Angle Degree after Top Dead Center).

The researchers also equipped the engine with a high-pressure external EGR system (designed and implemented by the University of Birmingham). The external EGR valves were controlled using a standalone control unit that requires a pulse-width modulated input signal to specify the desired valve position, provided by a custom LabView application.

The engine was operated at two steady-state conditions from the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) for a mid-size/large family vehicle with 2 L engine under urban driving operation: a) 35 N·m/2100 rpm (low load) and b) 60 N·m/2100 rpm (medium load). The 33% v/v butanol-gasoline fuel was blended at the University of Birmingham using standard EN228 gasoline with 5% (v/v) ethanol content (B0) and pure n-butanol.

They found that the influence of the butanol depended on engine load. At low loads, butanol’s physical properties (e.g. high viscosity) are more influential on the combustion performance than its chemical properties (e.g. higher flame speed). Consequently, the combustion of B33 was observed to be more unstable due to the deteriorated fuel spray atomization and in-homogeneous air-fuel mixture, also contributing to the marginally increased carbon monoxide emissions.

Performance combustion of B33 combined with EGR with respect to gasoline combustion: blue + positive, red - negative and - - - insignificant effect. Hergueta et al. Click to enlarge.

On the other hand, butanol’s shorter carbon chain and its oxygen content help to reduce the rest of the emissions. As the engine load was increased—and hence the fuel injection pressure—the combustion performance of B33 was improved.

They found that B33 B33 was an effective fuel to reduce most of the legislated emissions in both engine conditions, while maintaining engine brake thermal efficiency (BTE). Adding EGR provided a general improvement of BTE and brake specific fuel consumption (BSFC) for both fuels and was beneficial to B33 since greater engine-out emissions reduction was achieved.

… high percentages of butanol in gasoline blends combined with EGR technology can be a potential solution in GDI engines for reducing legislated emissions while maintaining the BTE compare to gasoline. However, it is anticipated that the calibration and injection systems of the engine would have to be adapted to minimize its limited performance at low loads, since the physical properties can pre- dominate over its advantageous chemical properties.

—Hergueta et al.


  • C. Hergueta, M. Bogarra, A. Tsolakis, K. Essa, J.M. Herreros (2017) “Butanol-gasoline blend and exhaust gas recirculation, impact on GDI engine emissions,” Fuel, Volume 208, Pages 662-672 doi: 10.1016/j.fuel.2017.07.022



Interesting to watch all this research into low smog fuels and ICEs now that the threat of EVs is a real and sudden danger to profits. All these ideas were suppressed otherwise...It's the love of money that really spins the Earth.


That sounds like a lot of butanol. Where will they get it from ?
There is plenty of ethanol being produced, but little butanol, as far as I can see.


Answer:  they won't get it.

If shortening carbon chains leads to less PM formation, the obvious carbon-chain length to shoot for is 1 atom.  This means methanol, not 4-carbon butanol.  As a bonus, MeOH is easily cracked to CO + 2 H2 using exhaust heat.  If this is the exclusive fuel mixture at low load and used with homogeneous combustion, the high flame speed and lack of any carbon-carbon bonds should almost eliminate PM formation (there'll be some from engine oil).  The lean-limit tolerance of hydrogen should make it easy to minimize NOx as well.

As you get into higher loads, direct methanol injection would cool the compressing charge to prevent preignition.  You'd still have no carbon-carbon bonds to nucleate soot.


2.0-liter Ford GDI engine

Good one to use.
Methanol was suggested years ago but it was said to be WAY too toxic. You can not have it both ways.


China's moving into MeOH in a big way; it's already 4% of petroleum-equivalent consumption there.

Traces of methanol are not toxic.  Methanol is a natural component of fruit pectin.  As always, the dose makes the poison.

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