Ricardo to develop natural gas truck engines for California

The challenging air quality regulatory environment of the Golden State is the spur to a project to develop low-NOx commercial vehicle engines as an alternative to diesel

Automotive technology specialist Ricardo has announced that it has secured two major contracts to produce natural gas engines for heavy commercial vehicles which are intended to be operated under the onerous environmental regulations of California. The contracts will see Ricardo partnering with the Gas Technology Institute, a US organisation headquartered near Chicago, devoted to energy and environmental technology development.

The project aims to develop alternatives to diesel engines for medium and heavy commercial vehicles to reduce NOx emissions and improve fuel efficiency. Some funding is coming from the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).

In one project, Ricardo is to test two ignition systems that can be used with natural gas-fuelled engines – high-frequency discharge and pulsed nano-plasma – to measure and evaluate their effect on engine performance. The other project is aimed at developing an ultra-low emission engine for class 4-7 medium and heavy duty trucks, whose current diesel engines are in the top ten sources of NOx emissions in the Southern Californian Basin and are projected to remain major polluters even as the current fleet is replaced by newer vehicles meeting the most recent emissions standards, set in 2010.

The new engines would produce 90 per cent less NOx than even the best-performing current diesel engines, Ricardo claims, adding that their performance “would approach the regional NOx emissions associated with operating an equivalent all-electric heavy-duty vehicle, when the emissions associated with the electricity production are taken into account.” According to Ricardo president Clive Wooton, “trucks such as these are not as amenable to the type of electrification and hybridization approaches that have been applied very successfully in the passenger car and SUV sector. However, the substitution of diesel with natural gas as a transportation fuel for these classes of vehicle offers some attractive potential benefits in reducing NOx emissions.”