Consumers hoping to cut gasoline spending, with average gas prices nearing $3 a gallon, could opt for hybrids. But even with gas prices high, the added cost of hybrid cars can cancel money saved at the pump, suggesting the need for lower-cost alternatives.
A new type of ethanol-boosted, turbocharged gasoline engine could be the answer. The engine would be almost as efficient as gas-electric hybrids, but cost much less, according to its MIT inventors -- Leslie Bromberg and Daniel Cohn, plasma science and fusion center researchers, and John Heywood, professor of mechanical engineering.
The new engine would improve efficiency in two ways. The first is to decrease the size of the engine, which reduces friction, thus saving fuel at light engine loads, such as during city driving. When more power is needed, a turbocharger kicks in. It uses exhaust flow to compress air, making it possible to combust more air and fuel in a smaller space.
The second approach is to engineer the engine to have a higher compression ratio -- the ratio of the volume of air and fuel before and after it is compressed in an engine. A higher compression ratio "makes the engine more efficient, because you expand the burned gases more and extract more energy out of them," Heywood says.
With Bill Gates investing a fortune in ethanol, you'd almost think ethanol was going to play an important part in our technological future.