Reports Underscore Role of Biofuels in Future High-Performance, Low-Carbon Engines

Ethanol advocates and industry leaders received good news last week when DOE officials unveiled two studies, one identifying high-octane blendstocks that could be blended into gasoline for better performance, and the other outlining a new mathematical equation that quantifies the fuel efficiency potential associated with different fuel properties.

Released by the department’s Co-Optimization of Engines and Fuels initiative (Co-Optima), the reports represent a major milestone in the first-of-its-kind research that aims to simultaneously transform both transportation fuels and vehicles to maximize performance and efficiency. The department and its scientists are also looking to minimize the environmental impact and accelerate the widespread adoption of innovative combustion strategies.

In addition to identifying blendstocks across five chemical groups, the study, Fuel Blendstocks with the Potential to Optimize Future Gasoline Engine Performance, determines that once co-optimized with advanced gasoline engines, the blendstocks have the potential to improve passenger vehicle fuel economy by 10 percent.

The companion study, Efficiency Merit Function for Spark Ignition Engines, aims to provide American industry with the scientific foundation needed to maximize vehicle and fuel performance and efficiency, thereby enabling increased fuel economy and more affordable transportation.

The reports build on Co-Optima’s research data first released last June that showed ethanol is the leading candidate fuel additive to achieve 2025 efficiency and clean air goals for the American transportation system.

The Co-Optima initiative aims to simultaneously develop advanced, more efficient engine technologies and enhanced transportation fuels that together can significantly increase fuel economy over today’s vehicles and reduce emissions. While advanced engine designs are being introduced commercially, they are limited by current fuels. However, the reports make clear that the advanced fuel components that can be derived from domestic biomass resources – that means ethanol – can increase U.S. energy security and create jobs in rural America.

The research builds on a large body of work that has already been done on various fuel additives, including ethanol, which is an inherently high-octane fuel additive that contains many of the benefits researchers are looking for, including commercial and economic viability.

The magnitude of the latest reports’ findings can be evidenced by the fact they are the products of a department- and sector-wide, research and development (R&D) collaboration between DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) – the department’s nine national laboratories, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

It’s also important to note that the Co-Optima initiative involves and is supported by a variety of industry stakeholders, including automakers, biofuel feedstock and producer groups, agribusiness partners, infrastructure providers and technical experts.

The 25x’25 Alliance has been working with many of these stakeholders to develop strategies to accelerate the transition of transportation fuels to higher octane/lower carbon blends for use in the U.S. light duty vehicle fleet. Increasing the development and use of biofuels, including conventional feedstocks like corn and second-generation feedstocks such as corn stover, will encourage additional growth in the production of cleaner-burning cars and light trucks on U.S. roads and highways.

Advancements in biofuel production have helped to establish ethanol, both conventional and advanced forms, as an increasingly cost-effective, commercially viable pathway for increasing the octane of liquid transportation fuels in the near future and by the year 2025.

Given that the internal combustion engine will play a key role in our transportation mix for decades to come, the need to improve vehicle efficiency and reduce the greenhouse gases they emit is an ongoing objective. DOE says the next phases of Co-Optima will validate the potential fuel efficiency improvements developed so far through engine testing. 25x’25 calls on policy makers and industry partners to sustain work like the Co-Optima research initiative. Also, regulators should take a closer look at the rapidly growing scientific evidence around the GHG emission-reduction benefits of biofuels, and acknowledge that they are a smart choice for meeting clean energy targets, while also supporting the U.S. economy.


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