Michigan State, Ford partner for fuels, engine development

By Ron Kotrba | October 16, 2007
Michigan State University (MSU) and Ford Motor Co. have been awarded nearly $2.4 million from the U.S. DOE to research engine technologies and biofuels properties concurrently to fully optimize diesel combustion performance when coupled together. "The grant really builds on 25 years of experience in engine research at Michigan State University," said MSU professor of mechanical engineering Harold Schock, who is also director of the university's Automotive Research Experiment Station. "We're trying to ascertain biofuels that have particular properties to be exploited to provide very efficient modes of combustion. The synthesis of fuel will determine the nature of the hydrocarbons we're dealing with."

According to Kris Berglund, MSU professor of chemical engineering and forestry, the syntheses of biofuels being examined aren't conventional renewable substitutes for diesel fuel. Rather, they will come from a variety of starch or lignocellulosic feedstocks pretreated and fermented using clostridium organisms to produce butanol and higher-alcohol butanol derivatives. MSU is conducting concurrent work in Sweden to develop better separation processes in butanol production. Much of the larger-scale fuels development aspects of this project will be conducted in Webberville, Mich., at Michigan Brewing Co., where MSU has a biorefinery training facility.

The goal of this work is to better understand the relationships among fuels like butanol and the optimum fuel-air ratios prior to combustion, and "managing the way the fuel evaporates and the subsequent turbulent mixing that takes place," Schock said. Technologies such as homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) will be investigated to manage hydroxyl radicals promoting leaner and more efficient combustion. Alternative means to start the combustion process using a turbulent jet igniter are also under examination.

In addition to providing direction, Ford will help to determine if the proposed advanced combustion systems are mass-producible. "Ford will also have input in the potential mechanisms for controlling emissions for any concept that we might investigate," Schock told Biodiesel Magazine.
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