Increasing efficiency, reducing emissions with hydrous ethanol in diesel engines

ethanolTraditional corned-based ethanol requires a great deal of energy to produce, largely to remove excess water. To reduce this energy consumption, researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering are investigating the use of a more efficient alternative: hydrous ethanol, which contains more water than traditional ethanol.

Not only does hydrous ethanol require less energy to produce, but it can also result in reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides and soot when used in diesel engines.

Assistant Professor Will Northrop and Professor David Kittelson are conducting two projects examining the use of hydrous ethanol in diesel engines. The research has received funding from the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment, a former program of the U of M’s Institute on the Environment.

In the first project, the researchers are using hydrous ethanol in a dual-fuel diesel engine system that allows ethanol to be the primary fuel source for the engine, thereby reducing harmful exhaust emissions. In fact, the researchers have been able to use 150-proof ethanol—75 percent ethanol and 25 percent water—to provide up to 85 percent of the fuel energy in a diesel engine using this method. This saves about 20 percent of the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional ethanol.

In the second project, the researchers are examining aftermarket systems that could be used to retrofit a range of older diesel engines to use hydrous ethanol. As part of the project, the researchers are partnering with CleanFlex Power Systems, a Nebraska-based company that has developed a dual-fuel aftermarket system allowing diesel engines to use hydrous ethanol.

“We hope to learn what the makeup is of the emissions that are remaining after an engine is retrofitted with a CleanFlex system,” says Ron Preston, CleanFlex president. “With the research being done at the University of Minnesota, we hope to be able to make some alterations that will get a reduction of particulate matter at 85 percent or greater. That will make this a very important solution for emissions reduction in diesel engines.”

To learn more about the research, read the full article in the October issue of Catalyst.

Posted in Environment, Transportation research

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