You might think, if you didn’t know better, that all of the cutting-edge work in the automotive industry is focused on hybrid and electric vehicles. Not so, says Rod Beazley, director of the Spark Ignited Engines Product Group at Ricardo plc and head of Ricardo’s Ethanol Boost Direct Injection (EBDI) engine program.
Why bother with ethanol, you might ask. It may reduce emissions but it also reduces mileage – by as much as 28% compared with gasoline, per Beazley’s estimate. But that’s because today’s engines are not optimized for ethanol, and the potential for optimization is what attracted Ricardo to the EBDI research project. Beazley believes that EBDI technology will shrink the gas mileage gap to 15% or less, and with ethanol production ramping up, the lower cost of ethanol compared with gasoline should persuade skeptical consumers. If it persuades enough of them, the U.S. can reduce its dependence on imported oil.
Earlier this year Ricardo showed a 3.2-liter V-6 EBDI prototype that can run on gasoline or up to 100% ethanol. It wanted to match the performance of a 6.6-liter turbo-diesel while delivering better fuel economy. Beazley says domestic automakers, recovering from a major slump and facing deadlines to meet tougher federal mileage and emission standards, are very interested in EBDI. “They are downsizing and boosting, but we’re more extreme than they are,” he says. “We’re about a development cycle ahead.”
Ricardo designed its engine with flexibility for controlling myriad parameters. A sensor in the fuel line, for example, gauges octane rating and adjusts performance accordingly. “Our real value is in engine control,” Beazley notes, but with flexibility comes complexity.
Karina Morley, Ricardo’s global vice president of controls and electronics, appreciates the latest microcontrollers from Freescale and Infineon that accommodate more memory for more sophisticated algorithms. She says the firm is about to launch its own rapid prototyping controller. Software development is labor-intensive, but experienced programmers are readily available. More evidence that the automotive industry is in the midst of a major transformation.