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On Using Ethanol Fuels in Unmodified Vehicles

On Using Ethanol Fuels in Unmodified Vehicles

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Published by Adam Khan
This is an exploration of the possibility of using ethanol as a fuel in cars designed for gasoline.
This is an exploration of the possibility of using ethanol as a fuel in cars designed for gasoline.

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Published by: Adam Khan on Nov 11, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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On Using Ethanol Fuels in Unmodified VehiclesContents1. Background2. Engine life and engine temperatures3. Ethanol Fuels in Unmodified Vehicles4. E20 and E855. E20 and NREL6. Comparisons with high air-cooled head temperatures - Correlating CHT and EGT7. Additional insights from NREL8. E85 temperatures, fuel economy, and the SAE-MIT-Honda study9. Satisfactory engine behavior with E8510. Going with 100% E85 in problematic vehicles11. Calibration of E85 kits12. Field testing the theories13. Conclusion©Copyright: John Kolak. Permission is granted to freely copy and distribute this document in itscomplete and unaltered form only. Online postings must link back to the original posting site.Contact: jkolak@gmail.com
1. BackgroundI subscribe to Abe Shackleton's blog at OpenFuelStandard.org. I have been searching for information on usingethanol fuel in unmodified vehicles. We have had a couple of conversations, and when the topic got technical,he referred me to the Alcohol Can Be a Gas forums. While the forum is rather congested, I did notice theUnmodified forum and started looking there for answers.I noticed that Bob Glicksman was the primary driver of inquiry there. It seems that good information is hard tocome by, but he was asking all the right questions. After some time away from the forum, he returned andposted the results of his studies in a document called Ethanol and Internal Combustion Engines, which can bedownloaded at this link:
As of this writing Bob's document is of necessity conservative and reluctant to make recommendations.Because of its informational and somewhat encyclopedic nature, it has to limit itself to known facts verified byproperly designed scientific studies. At this time, hard information on the effects of ethanol fuel on today'smotor vehicles is hard to come by. The US government is working on studies to certify ethanol for use in ournation's vehicles. While the E20 certification is finished, E85 studies are still in progress.I contacted Bob to discuss a few technical issues in his article and shared with him the results of come cursorytests on my own vehicle with my preliminary recommendations. Since he is trying not to includerecommendations in his document, he asked me to publish my results for the public benefit.Section 2.2 has some interesting information on the history of American motor vehicle and motor fueldevelopment in its discussion of Henry Ford's original philosophy of fuel availability. At the time, gasoline couldonly be purchased in the city, and alcohol was readily available at farms, so the Model T was designed asAmerica's first flex-fuel vehicle (FFV). There is a nice video about this made at the Ford Museum by David Blumehere:
When prohibition came along, Ford made the decision to drop support for ethanol fuel because he reasonedthat he couldn't expect farmers to buy his product if he did not buy their product. This appears to have been abad decision because the biggest problems we have in engine longevity are related to the higher energycontent of gasoline.2. Engine life and engine temperaturesThere are some good temperature charts at GAMI aviation that show that gasoline combustion has a hightemperature peak in at Air-Fuel Ratios (AFR) near the stoichometric mixture (stoich). This is the ideal blend of fuel and air at which they are perfectly balanced so that there is enough fuel for all of the oxygen and enoughoxygen to burn all of the fuel with none left over. Bob discusess stoichiometry in more detail in Section 3.2 of his document. Figure 2 at GAMI is found here:
 http://gami.com/articles/bttfpart1.php (or directly, here:http://gami.com/img/articles/bttf/pt1fig2.jpg ) What we are most interested in on this chart are the red and blue lines running on a curve at the very top.These represent the Exhaust Gas Temperatures (EGT) of a TCM IO-550 engine running at 70 and 79% loads. Theheavy red vertical line is the temperature peak at stoich. The red and green vertical lines to its left and rightindicate the boundaries of the peak's hot zone at plus or minus 50 degrees F. Running an engine in this hot zonecauses serious engine damage when the graph shifts upwards into even higher temperatures beyond the 79%power graph illustrated here. The GAMI charts measure AFR in terms of fuel flow, whereas automotive AFRs aregenerally expressed as a ratio or lambda value (Glicksman Section 4.1). Mixtures from 13.1:1 to 15.5:1 aregenerally considered unsafe for engines under load. This corresponds to lambda values of 0.89 to 1.05.The two strategies for the protection and preservation of an engine are to run at the lower temperatures seenon the chart at either the rich side of the peak on the left side of the chart, (rich of peak cooling), or at thelower temperatures seen on the lean side of the peak on the right side of the chart (lean of peak cooling).Theoretically either is possible, but in actual practice, lean of peak is not done in automotive engineering. If yougo back to GAMI Figure 2 and look at the third set of red and blue curves, you will see that the power curvedrops off more steeply as you go further lean of peak. What this means in practical terms is that if you don'thave tuned induction and closely calibrated fuel injectors, the various cylinders on the engine will not receiveexactly the same AFR. This causes the engine to run out of balance, but more importantly creates a situationwhere some cylinders might run rich enough to burn up. GAMI provides a service to the aviation industry tobalance induction and provide tuned injectors, but this is cost prohibitive in the mass-produced automotivemarket, so automobile engines are always tuned for engine protection at rich of peak.In Sections 3 and 4, Bob discusses the interest of the government to reduce exhaust pollution by ensuring thatengines run as close to stoich as possible, and that exceptions were allowed for heavy engine loads and coldstart situations. It is precisely because of this need for engine protection that the automotive ECU isprogrammed to deviate from stoich to allow a richer AFR under load. So, as we can see, Ford might have madea better decision if he had chosen alcohol fuel instead of gasoline. Now that Brazil has been running alcohol fuelfor so long, reports are coming back that engines last two to three times longer burning ethanol rather thangasoline. Besides gasoline's higher temperatures, gasoline's combustion explosion is more violent thanethanol's so that bearing and cylinder wear and tear is greater when running gasoline fuel.3. Ethanol Fuels in Unmodified VehiclesThe purpose of this paper is to provide recommendations concerning the use of ethanol fuels in unmodifiedvehicles. The temperature information, and its danger to engines, discussed here is the primary factor thatneeds to be considered. In the past there have been concerns about damage to rubber and plastic fuel systemcomponents being damaged by ethanol. However, the US government has mandated that all vehicles sold inthe US be able to tolerate ethanol since the introduction of E10 gasohol in 1983. For those living outside theUS, you can probably add a couple of years as manufacturers use up their supplies of old stock and adjust

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