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Effects of High-Octane Ethanol Blends on Four Legacy Flex-Fuel Vehicles, and a Turbocharged GDI Vehicle

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting engine and vehicle research to investigate the potential of high-octane fuels to improve fuel economy. Ethanol has very high research octane number (RON) and heat of vaporization (HoV), properties that make it an excellent spark ignition engine fuel. The prospects of increasing both the ethanol content and the octane number of the gasoline pool has the potential to enable improved fuel economy in future vehicles with downsized, downsped engines. This report describes a small study to explore the potential performance benefits of high octane ethanol blends in the legacy fleet. There are over 17 million flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road today in the United States, vehicles capable of using any fuel from E0 to E85. If a future high-octane blend for dedicated vehicles is on the horizon, the nation is faced with the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. If today’s FFVs can see a performance advantage with a high octane ethanol blend such as E25 or E30, then perhaps consumer demand for this fuel can serve as a bridge to future dedicated vehicles.
Experiments were performed with four FFVs using a 10% ethanol fuel (E10) with 88 pump octane, and a market gasoline blended with ethanol to make a 30% by volume ethanol fuel (E30) with 94 pump octane. The research octane numbers were 92.4 for the E10 fuel and 100.7 for the E30 fuel. Two vehicles had gasoline direct injected (GDI) engines, and two featured port fuel injection (PFI). Significant wide open throttle (WOT) performance improvements were measured for three of the four FFVs, with one vehicle showing no change. Additionally, a conventional (non-FFV) vehicle with a small turbocharged direct-injected engine was tested with a regular grade of gasoline with no ethanol (E0) and a splash blend of this same fuel with 15% ethanol by volume (E15). RON was increased from 90.7 for the E0 to 97.8 for the E15 blend. Significant wide open throttle and thermal efficiency performance improvement was measured for this vehicle, which achieved near volumetric fuel economy parity on the aggressive US06 drive cycle, demonstrating the potential for improved fuel economy in forthcoming downsized, downsped engines with high-octane fuels.

John Thomas , Brian West , Shean Huff
Contact Person
Tim Theiss
Contact Organization
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Contact Email
Bioenergy Category
Publication Date
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