Diesel Engines Could Burn Any Fuel With Just a Software Update

Heavy-duty trucks account for a quarter of U.S. on-road vehicle energy consumption, despite representing only 1 percent of on-road vehicles. They also burn highly polluting diesel fuels and electrifying them is not a practical solution, at least for now. But they can still benefit a great deal from switching to alternative, less polluting fuels, and an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology thinks this can be achieved using a software solution.
Diesel engines could burn any fuel with just a software update 6 photos
Photo: Pixabay
Cummins jumps on the hydrogen ICE bandwagon, it's getting seriousCummins jumps on the hydrogen ICE bandwagon, it's getting seriousIveco Stralis NP 460Iveco Stralis NP 460Iveco Stralis NP 460
Burning clean fuels in internal combustion engines is considered by some people a more desirable alternative to electrification. This is attributed to the fact that the vehicles would still be built the way they were always built, the way that we like them. For heavy-duty applications like trucks, ships, and heavy machinery, the internal combustion engine is here to stay for a long time. This is why it pays to find ways to make it cleaner by using alternative fuels instead of diesel.

This was still considered impractical, as the engine would need different parts to burn different fuels. For instance, burning gasoline in an engine usually needs a spark to start the fire, while in diesel engines, the fuel spontaneously combusts after it is compressed in the cylinders. Trying to burn gasoline in a diesel engine would not work, as the cylinder explosion is unpredictable or does not happen at all.

We know Cummins started work on a fuel-agnostic engine that could burn any fuel with slight modifications. This means the engine still needs to be adapted for a specific fuel, but most of the parts are the same regardless of the fuel burnt. Illinois Institute of Technology Associate Professor Carrie Hall thinks there's a better way. This only requires a software update for the engine’s management system to run on a different fuel.

Carrie Hall’s work relies on machine learning and computer modeling to figure out what’s going on inside the cylinders and when specific actions need to be performed during the combustion process to optimize burning. Her work is geared towards using gasoline instead of diesel fuel for now, but can be adapted to other fluids too, like a low-carbon fuel called dimethyl ether.

There’s an anticipation that with electric vehicles being more common for passenger cars in the United States there’ll be a lot of extra gasoline that’s not getting used. That gasoline can be used on heavier-duty vehicles. That’s a strategy that’s still being explored,” says Hall. “Making engines smart enough to use a broader range of fuels also opens the door to other possibilities, such as using carbon-neutral or carbon-negative fuels.”

Machine-learning approach needs to be completely retrained for each new fuel, but Hall simplified the whole process and only needs to update some parameters that correspond to measurable fuel properties. Her research is part of a broader project to figure out how to use gasoline in diesel engines and was conducted in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, Navistar, and Caterpillar.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram X (Twitter)
About the author: Cristian Agatie
Cristian Agatie profile photo

After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories