Is the abrupt
increase in diesel fuel prices discouraging automakers from pursuing
future diesel products? So far, no Detroit manufacturer that had promised
a diesel engine for its half-ton truck has had a change of
heart, and makers of heavy-duty engines for three-quarter and one-ton
models are still on track to meet 2010 emissions regulations. But there's
plenty of buzz in the industry questioning the viability of the compression
engine and its heavy, now-expensive fuel.
For a long
time, diesel fuel offered a cost advantage to truck consumers, but
that advantage has been slipping
away since the turn of the century.
According to the Energy Information Administration, diesel fuel has
cost more than gasoline since 2005. That’s about the time oil companies
started switching over to ultra-low-sulfur diesel, which was required
of all retail locations by September 2006. Making things worse, the added
cost of buying a diesel versus a gas engine surged when new hardware
was required in order to meet 2007 emissions requirements.
rising costs, the diesel market boomed earlier this decade as new customer
bases, including pop-culture artists and athletes, purchased heavy-duty
trucks. The current volatility, however, is culling out the maverick-image
buyer, and diesel penetration in the three-quarter and one-ton market
has dropped to just 50 percent. Two years ago, the split in that segment
was as high as 75 percent diesel engines for some companies.
truck’s core value -- delivering brutish torque --
still attracts a sizeable consumer segment that tows or hauls heavy loads.
However, the sudden shakeup in the heavy-duty market has truck manufacturers
struggling to find a non-diesel engine that can offer extreme power at
a more attractive operating cost.
partnership with a group of MIT scientists, may be closing in on a
radical twin-fuel engine technology that could be production-ready
in the next three to five years. According to officials, this engine
can deliver diesel-like power numbers with a more reasonable initial
cost and without using high-priced diesel fuel and its expensive emissions
formed a company called Ethanol Boosting Systems and developed the
technology based on computer simulations. This virtual model starts
with a small but highly turbocharged gas/ethanol engine with separate
injectors for each cylinder. The gasoline system mixes fuel with air
in a normal air/fuel ratio using port injection in the
intake manifold. The second system injects ethanol directly into the
combustion chamber to control detonation, or knocking.
According to EBS, such an engine has numerous advantages over hybrids
and diesels, including lower cost, reduced emissions and improved fuel
economy. More important, though, the design would be most beneficial
in trucks and other high-torque applications.
boosting is basically a natural extension of a gas, turbocharged, direct-injected
engine already out there," says Daniel Cohn, the
CEO of EBS and a research scientist at MIT. "It just takes it a