VAN BUREN TWP., MI --- Ricardo Inc., an engineering firm specializing in vehicle fuel efficiency, said it has developed technology that optimizes ethanol-fueled engines to a level that exceeds gasoline engine efficiency and approaches levels previously reached only by diesel engines.
The technology, called Ethanol Boosted Direct Injection or EBDI, takes full advantage of ethanol's best properties -- higher octane and higher heat of vaporization -- to create a renewable fuel scenario that is independent of the cost of oil, Ricardo said.
"Developing renewable energy applications that can lead to energy independence is a top priority at Ricardo," said Ricardo President Dean Harlow. "We've moved past theoretical discussion and are busy applying renewable energy technology to the real world. The EBDI engine project is a great example because it turns the gasoline-ethanol equation upside down. It has the performance of a diesel, at the cost of a gas engine, and runs on ethanol, gasoline or a blend of both."
Ricardo said that EBDI solves many of the challenges faced by flex-fuel engines because it is optimized for both alternative fuels and gasoline. Current flex-fuel engines pay a fuel economy penalty of about 30 percent compared to gasoline when operated on ethanol blends such as E85. The EBDI engine substantially improves ethanol's efficiency, and performs at a level comparable to a diesel engine, the company said.
"In real-world terms, these efficiencies mean that EBDI can reduce the actual cost of transportation when compared to fossil fuels, and it does it with a renewable resource -- ethanol," said Rod Beazley, director of Ricardo's gasoline product group. "The combination of technologies we're applying to the EBDI engine make the most of ethanol's advantages over other fuels, which include a higher octane rating and a higher heat of vaporization. Without getting too technical, this means we can use a high level of turbocharging to achieve the high cylinder pressures that ethanol enables. Add in some other advanced technologies such as direct injection, variable valve timing, optimized ignition and advanced exhaust gas recirculation, and we're squeezing out more power than is possible with gasoline."
The prototype EBDI is a 3.2-liter V6 engine that ultimately could serve as a replacement for a large gasoline or turbo-diesel engine in a large SUV, Ricardo said. The first firing of the engine and initial development are now taking place and will be installed into a dual-wheel pickup truck demonstration vehicle later this year.
Beazley emphasized that the technology is very scalable and that applications could reach far beyond the automotive and light-truck industry. "Imagine agricultural equipment that, in effect, burns what it harvests -- corn, sugar cane or some other renewable substance," he said. "It could mean tremendous cost savings across many industries."
This project represents a technical collaboration with Behr, Bosch, Delphi, Federal-Mogul, GW Castings and Honeywell to further the advancement and commercialization of the EBDI project.