Jan. 10, 2001 AUSTIN, Texas -- Engineers from The University of Texas at Austin College of Engineering and Ford Motor Company have patented a new technology aimed at reducing vehicle emissions by 50 percent or more. The new technology, which acts like a miniature oil refinery located under the hood of the car, not only reduces hydrocarbon pollutants but promises to reduce all toxins emitted from cars by 80 percent.
The research for the technology, called the on-board distillation system, was supported in part by the Texas Advanced Technology Program, with Ford underwriting the patent application process.
Dr. Ronald Matthews, a UT Austin professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. Rudy Stanglmaier, a former UT Austin doctoral student, patented the system with two Ford engineers. The Ford engineers are Dr. Wen Dai, a UT Austin College of Engineering graduate, and Dr. George Davis. Matthews is the Carl J. Eckhardt Fellow of Mechanical Engineering. Stanglmaier is currently employed at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
In temperate and cold weather, gasoline-powered vehicles use more fuel when the key turns in the ignition -- and as the engine is warming up -- than when the vehicle has been running for a few minutes.
Only vaporized gasoline burns. When a driver starts a car in temperate weather -- an outdoor temperature of about 80 degrees -- only about 20 percent of the gasoline injected onto an engine's intake valves vaporizes and powers the engine. Matthews said the rest forms a puddle in the intake manifold and evaporates when the engine gets warm, causing the engine to emit a higher level of hydrocarbons.
Engineers have long recognized that the ideal automobile engine would run on two kinds of fuels: an extra-volatile fuel for starting the engine and for warm-up -- with a separate type of fuel for ongoing operation. Matthews, however, said it is "difficult enough to get consumers to keep their radiators full of water and their tires full of air, much less ask them to fill with two fuels at the gas station." He said the new technology solves that problem.
Matthews said the on-board distillation system, which adds less than five pounds of weight to the engine, acts something like a miniature oil refinery. He explained that "on-board distillation allows you to fill up with one fuel. Then, we make two fuels from it."
Matthews said refineries take crude oil and split it into gasoline fuel, jet fuel and diesel fuel.
"What we're doing is separating the molecules (of gasoline) that are easy to evaporate -- the highly volatile ones -- from all the other molecules. Then we store those highly volatile molecules separately and use them to start the car," he said.
The system consists of four pieces and attachments installed in the factory in different areas around the engine. "Most people looking under the hood wouldn't recognize anything different," Matthews said.
The system initially will be implemented on a Ford 2001 Lincoln Navigator in UT Austin's mechanical engineering laboratories, where it will be refined for both performance and cost-effectiveness over the next year and a half until ready for mass production.
The goal of the engineers is to reduce costs from the current price of about $400 to around $60 per unit in production. If the new system finds widespread market acceptance, UT Austin and Ford will share royalties for its use in other companies' vehicles.
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