Automakers partner with Department of Energy to study dual-fuel potential

Automakers Ford and FCA US have recently announced a partnership with the United States Department of Energy (DoE) to further research and development on dual-fuel vehicles. Their research, done at the DoE's Argonne National Laboratory, is a mixture of exploring technical concepts and developing real technology to create engines that can simultaneously use both natural gas and run-of-the-mill gasoline.

They're hoping to develop an engine that's the best of both worlds: one that can take advantage of the strengths of each fuel source while reducing overall fuel consumption and running as efficiently as possible. The partnership's biggest current project is an engine that cuts gasoline use in half while also running 10 percent more efficiently, and with a 10 percent jump in overall power density. 

Among the many advantages that natural gas can bring to the table is its significantly-higher-than-gasoline resistance to knocking, a phenomenon that occurs when the mixture of fuel and air in an engine automatically ignites itself without any prompting from the vehicle. A machine that blends natural gas with gasoline could potentially save fuel and avoid engine damage by minimizing the phenomenon.

While dual-fuel engine could run with a static blended ratio of fuels, the engineers and scientist collaborating on the project are taking things a step further and experimenting with designs that could alter the blend depending on external conditions. Running under a light load, for instance, an engine might be more efficient on a more gasoline-heavy blend, and the project ultimately wants to design an engine that can adapt to changing environments.

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