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Ethanol-Optimized Engine A Major Breakthrough for Producers

By Tom Buis | March 16, 2010
At Growth Energy, we are constantly looking for new ways to demonstrate the opportunities domestic ethanol provides our nation. We saw a major opportunity emerge earlier this winter, when Growth Energy and Ricardo Systems, a global leader in engine innovation, unveiled a 10-month joint project to demonstrate that engines designed specifically for ethanol can match regular gasoline and diesel for both fuel efficiency and power performance.

This is an enormous breakthrough for our industry. The Growth Energy-Ricardo project will prove that ethanol is a viable fuel—that its unique fuel properties, particularly its high-octane and high-oxygen levels, coupled with its low-carbon, renewable and sustainable qualities, make it the fuel of the future.

In short, the Growth Energy-Ricardo project will demonstrate that engine technology can finally catch up with fuel technology.

Ricardo's ethanol boost direct injection (EBDI) engine is designed to burn any mix of ethanol and gas up to E85. The engine block is half the weight of a traditional diesel engine, which can allow as much as an additional 500 pounds of payload for a traditional V6. In fact, Ricardo engineers told me that the more weight the engine is pulling, the greater the power the ethanol can provide the engine. And, at blends of E40 to E50, the EBDI engine improves on the fuel economy of regular gasoline engines by as much as 10 percent. Think about that: One of the biggest criticisms of ethanol is that engines lose mileage when burning ethanol. But this engine proves that the problem isn't the fuel—it's the engine. An engine designed specifically to burn ethanol, as opposed to a gasoline engine that is burning ethanol, can tap those fuel qualities that make ethanol a desirable alternative to fossil fuels.

To demonstrate the full potential of this new technology, our two companies will be putting the EBDI engines into a pair of heavy-duty pickup trucks. Those trucks will be run through the usual kinds of rigors of everyday driving around the country. That includes highway cruising, stop-and-go city driving, and hauling heavy payloads. Our intention is to prove that a variety of ethanol blends, used as a fuel in the ethanol-optimized engine, make ethanol a terrific replacement for both regular gasoline and diesel.

Growth Energy and Ricardo shared a booth at the Washington, D.C., Auto Show in late January, and held a press conference to announce the project. The story was picked up by an array of automotive industry newspapers and media outlets, and major news outlets including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and "Voice of America."

We all know why domestic ethanol is an effective alternative to gasoline refined from foreign oil. Ethanol is renewable. We will never run out as long as we can farm or turn waste like corn stover or woodchips into cellulosic ethanol. As a domestic fuel, ethanol makes us less dependent on foreign oil, and that, in turn, makes our nation less susceptible to cartel-driven price shocks to our economy. And, ethanol creates jobs—particularly, well-paying jobs in our smaller, rural communities where we need to create the kind of jobs that can keep our young people at home.

So look for more information about the Growth Energy-Ricardo engine project on our Web site and in the news. You may even see one of our EBDI-powered pickup trucks in your town this year.

Tom Buis is CEO of Growth Energy, www.growthenergy.org.