With last year's jump in petroleum prices still in our rear-view mirrors, the quest to build more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly road vehicles is as pressing as ever. Alternative fuel engines have been around for decades, but a recent breakthrough has many thinking the days of gasoline guzzling on the roadway may soon be over. In this month's "Winner: The Omnivorous Engine", Associate Editor Erico Guizzo fills us in on the development of a new motor that sips gasoline and/or ethanol and/or natural gas to power vehicles.
Guizzo writes that a new version of Fiat's Siena available currently only in Brazil runs on any mixture of fuels you put in its tanks. Then, on the fly, the engine automatically adjusts its ignition timing and the quantity of fuel injected into the cylinders on each cycle to get the most power out of whatever mixture you've got while keeping emissions under control. The new design, developed by the Brazilian unit of Magneti Marelli, in HortolÃ¢ndia, a Fiat Group subsidiary, is a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with one set of injectors for the liquid fuel and another for natural gas. The liquids are stored in a 48-L conventional tank, the compressed natural gas in two 6.5-cubic-meter cylinders in the trunk. Marelli calls the system TetraFuel, a reference to the fact that it can run on pure gasoline, pure ethanol, gasohol, or straight natural gas.
"The concept is very powerful, and it certainly is portable," commented William L. Sharfman, an automotive expert and principal of Sharfman and Co., a strategic consulting firm in New York City. "Once you have the concept, it's probably applicable to other kinds of fuel."
Although much of the automotive engineering world is focused on hybrids, electrics, and even fuel-cell cars, Guizzo notes, there is still a place for an alt-fuel vehicle whose technological breakthroughs are in software and electronics. For one thing, multi-fuel technology could serve as a bridge from petroleum to other possible technologies and fuels, and it would let manufacturers keep making internal combustion engines, something they've gotten very good at during the past century.
So, for delivering a multiple-fuel control system to take advantage of the most economic resource available, while minimizing emissions, automatically, we recognize the Magneti Marelli TetraFuel engine as a technology winner.