"Ethanol is a higher octane fuel and, when done correctly, energy efficiency can be captured," says Glen Bower, automotive faculty advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Bower oversees five different undergraduate student projects involving the use of biodiesel and ethanol in engines.
He and some of his students were at the recent open house at United Wisconsin Grain Producers (UWGP) ethanol plant to demonstrate the competition hot rod designed by the students. The car's engine is designed to run on a combination of biodiesel and ethanol.
The vehicle recently placed first in a national competition for economy and acceleration.
Bower said the UW-Madison projects involved combination of business and mechanical engineering, taking into consideration costs of building the engine together with savings in fuel costs, engine efficiency, speed and engine endurance.
He described how the UW-Madison hybrid vehicle team works with the UW-Madison Engine Research Center to test implementations of Reactivity Controlled Compression Ignition (RCCI) engines developed in the mechanical engineering department.
RCCI is a dual-fuel compression-ignition engine low-temperature combustion (LTC) strategy that uses in-cylinder fuel blending with at least two fuels of different reactivity and multiple injections to control in-cylinder fuel reactivity to optimize combustion phasing, duration and magnitude.
Bower estimates that, using RCCI, the team vehicles emit 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases.
"You can't eliminate friction," he said, "but we're getting pretty close to the maximum amount of mechanical energy we can get from breaking a chemical bond."
Meanwhile the university's Baja Team is getting hands-on experience applying what they have learned to real-world problem solving situations. This is accomplished by designing and building a prototype single-seat off-road vehicle.
Students learn about the design process and manufacture components for the car.
At the end of the year, the car is competed against projects from other schools from around the country.
ETHANOL in race cars
Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, and a former National Farmers Union president, also talked about the benefits of ethanol fuel, particularly in the racing industry.
While most people think of burning rubber and the smoke of racing fuel when they watch the cars fly around the track, times are changing. NASCAR has run more than three million miles on E15 fuel, a fuel blended with 15 percent ethanol.
In order to increase awareness of ethanol and dispel myths about the renewable domestic fuel, Growth Energy and the National Corn Growers Association formed the American Ethanol partnership with NASCAR in 2011. Over the past two seasons NASCAR has been powered by a fuel comprised of 15 percent ethanol, made from American-grown corn.
The durability and high performance capabilities of E15 have been continuously proven while racing the rigorous conditions.
Other speakers at the day-long event hosted by UWGP talked about the benefits of ethanol to communities, farmers and the environment.