Texan innovation may cut vehicle emissions

Engineers from the University of Texas at Austin College of Engineering and Ford Motor Company have patented a new technology aimed at reducing vehicle emissions by at least 50 percent.

The new technology, dubbed the on-board distillation system, is said to act like a miniature oil refinery located under the bonnet of the car and has been designed to lessen hydrocarbon pollutants as well as reduce toxin emissions emitted from cars by up to 80 percent.

Dr Ronald Matthews, UT Austin professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr Rudy Stanglmaier, patented the system with two Ford engineers.

In temperate and cold weather, petrol-powered vehicles use more fuel when the key is turned in the ignition — and as the engine is warming up — than when the vehicle has been running for a few minutes.

Only vaporised petrol burns. When a driver starts a car in temperate weather – with an outdoor temperature of about 80 degrees — approximately 20 percent of the petrol injected onto an engine’s intake valves vaporises and powers the engine. Matthews said the rest forms a puddle in the intake manifold and evaporates when the engine gets warm, causing the engine to emit a higher level of hydrocarbons.

Engineers have long recognised that the ideal motor vehicle engine would run on two kinds of fuels: an extra-volatile fuel for starting the engine and for warm-up — with a separate type of fuel for ongoing operation.

Matthews said the on-board distillation system, which adds less than five pounds of weight to the engine, acts something like a miniature oil refinery. ‘On-board distillation allows you to fill up with one fuel,’ he said. ‘Then, we make two fuels from it.’

Matthews said refineries take crude oil and split it into gasoline fuel, jet fuel and diesel fuel.

‘What we’re doing is separating the molecules that are easy to evaporate — the highly volatile ones — from all the other molecules. Then we store those highly volatile molecules separately and use them to start the car,’ he said.

The system consists of four pieces and attachments installed in the factory in different areas around the engine. ‘Most people looking under the hood wouldn’t recognise anything different,’ said Matthews.

The system initially will be implemented on a Ford 2001 Lincoln Navigator in UT Austin’s mechanical engineering laboratories, where it will be refined for both performance and cost-effectiveness over the next year and a half until ready for mass production.