Ricardo gives ethanol a boost

Ethanol-fuelled engines could soon be cheaper and more efficient than those powered by petrol, according to researchers at Ricardo’s Petrol Product division.

The company is in the process of developing the Ethanol Boosted Direct Injection (EBDI) system, which makes use of ethanol’s characteristics in order to increase the efficiency and performance of fuel-flex engines.

Luke Cruss, chief engineer, EBDI project, said: ‘Ethanol has unique properties, such as high octane levels and high heat of vapourisation. We want to utilise these to control the combustion temperatures that will allow us to run the engine at a higher thermal efficiency.’

Current ethanol-fuelled engines sacrifice around 33 per cent in fuel economy compared to petrol when using ethanol blends. The EBDI system has reduced that gap by around a third, said Cruss.

In addition to improving the performance of engines for ethanol, EBDI aims to optimise the thermal efficiency of gas so that it can compete with diesel. Rod Beazley, director of Ricardo Petrol product group, said: ‘We’ve done some analysis and on various drive cycles in an ethanol and gas blend we are getting better fuel economy than the diesel engine we are replacing.’

The group is currently in the process of developing the first EBDI prototype in a 3.2 litre V6 engine and expect to demonstrate it on a dual-wheel pick-up truck by June this year. The company said that potential applications could extend to include agricultural, construction and other off-road industrial vehicles.

Ellie Zolfagharifard