Saturday, April 20

Sorry: updating the “software” of a diesel to run on green fuels is not realistic

Carrie Hall, an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says a simple software update can make any diesel car run on alternative fuels. But is this system viable on a large scale?

The software. A software update so that any diesel car works with other types of fuel. Sounds good, simple and cheap to implement. In fact, Hall says it can be incorporated into current engines to run on “alternative fuels,” so no other changes to the engine would be needed.

The invention analyzes the parameters under which any diesel engine needs to work with other types of fuels to get the most out of it and expel the least possible polluting emissions. The compression ratio or the speed of piston movement, for example, is studied.

Cheap. According to the teacher, the low price of the update lies in the way they work themselves. It is about getting the engine to compress the fuel just enough, since going above or below it can cause unexpected reactions and, of course, a malfunction of the same.

In the process, they had two options: install sensors inside the cylinder to understand how the fuel is working at all times, or use these sensors outside and, through the result on the outside, know what is happening inside. This allows the software to adapt in real time the behavior of the engine so that it adapts to the alternative fuel. The update would make it possible to turn a diesel car into a vehicle powered by biofuels.

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Without news. We have been hearing about biofuels for years. However, its practical application generates such a large economic investment that there does not seem to be a clear will for its development. One of the most famous projects is being developed by Audi, using water, CO2 and diesel to reduce polluting emissions. They say they can generate 400,000 liters of this fuel per year, but this would require a huge investment in infrastructure.

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Other well-known projects are Ford’s and dimethyl ether, but they also require the capture of CO2 in the air for their development. In addition, dimethyl ether has a lower calorific value and, therefore, needs to boost its consumption to obtain the same energy. Repsol also announced the creation of a plant to produce this type of alternative fuel. However, an investment of 60 million euros is needed to start producing 50 barrels of these fuels per day.

Heavy transport. To bring out its full potential, Carrie Hall references heavy transport, rather than passenger vehicles. In the United States, these vehicles barely represent 1% of the total fleet that travels on its roads, but they are responsible for more than 25% of the total polluting emissions from transport.

This must be taken into account because studies such as that of the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) continue to believe that the electric car is essential to reduce total polluting emissions. Despite everything, the European Commission has kept the charter of alternative fuels for aviation, through the ReFuelEU aviation initiative.

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Photo | Garett Mizunaka

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