The energy landscape of the world is changing as new technologies make more resources accessible. One of these previously untouched resources is natural gas, which when burned can produce half the carbon dioxide of some other hydrocarbon fuels, including gasoline. Now researchers at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich have developed a hybrid engine that burns natural gas and diesel more efficiently than a gasoline engine, but without compromising performance.
Natural gas-diesel hybrid engines have been built before, but these designs are for more static situations than what a car engine endures. To ensure the highest efficiency, the researchers had to develop a control system that monitors the pressures within the combustion cylinders and then changes the amount and timing of the diesel fuel. Unlike a gasoline engine that uses a spark plug to trigger ignition, this hybrid design uses diesel fuel to ignite the natural gas, and this allows it to achieve a maximum efficiency of 39.6%. While that is certainly impressive, it has the negative side effect of not producing enough heat for the catalytic converter to operate, but the researchers are working on how to fix that.
As the engine design is based on currently available technologies, the researchers are confident we could see these engines enter production in just five years, if they can find an industrial partner. They are also in talks with a car manufacturer.
Source: ETH Zurich