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Crude price paves way for fuel economy revolution (23/11/2007)

With crude oil prices pushing towards the $100 per barrel barrier, the era of cheap energy has clearly come to an end.  While filling station pump prices continue to rise however, help may be at hand for the motorist of the future in the form of high fuel-efficiency/low CO2 technologies being developed by Ricardo

With the universal imperative of addressing the problem of climate change, Ricardo and its research partners have been actively engaged in the development of technologies that will enable the vehicles of tomorrow to emit significantly less tail-pipe pollutants and CO2.  Following successful development, demonstration and prove-out, the potential take-up of next-generation vehicle technologies is typically linked to practical considerations of production implementation and commercial viability; in essence, is the customer willing to pay for the new technology.  As CO2 emissions generally correlate with fuel consumption however, these new technologies also hold the potential to dramatically improve fuel economy – a particularly attractive quality in the context of spiralling pump prices.  As crude oil prices continue to climb therefore, the balance is tipping in favour of low CO2 – and hence higher fuel economy – technologies.

“Our research tells us that while consumers are not typically willing to pay a significant premium in the purchase price of a new vehicle in order to achieve lower regulated exhaust emissions or the green badge of lower CO2, they are strongly influenced by hard facts such as running costs and performance”, explains Dr. Raul Meyer, Ricardo marketing & business development director.  “Many of the low CO2 technologies we have demonstrated at Ricardo such as full diesel hybrids and advanced gasoline combustion systems, have a cost associated with them, and this is factored into our projections of the timing and extent of their probable take-up by the market.  The report of a recent study of the US market by Ricardo and UBS predicted an almost five-fold increase in sales of hybrid vehicles by 2012. Furthermore it also presented historical data that demonstrates the correlation between the pump price of fuel and the purchase decisions of customers.  With crude oil now approaching $100/barrel, consequent hikes in pump prices are likely to make high fuel-efficiency technologies significantly more attractive to consumers.”

Key research programmes recently completed by Ricardo include the Efficient-C hybrid diesel developed with QinetiQ and PSA Peugeot-Citroën.  Revealed in 2006, Efficient-C is based on a Citroën Berlingo Multispace and out-performs its conventional diesel equivalent product while delivering combined-cycle fuel consumption of 75mpg – a full 30 per cent improvement in fuel economy. The project partners estimated that its incremental manufacturing cost of this product was approximately €4,000, of which the battery system represents a significant proportion. In a follow-on project known as RED-LION and announced on 7 November, Ricardo and QinetiQ have stated their intention to demonstrate commercially viable, reduced cost Lithium-Ion battery technologies which will considerably strengthen the attractiveness to consumers – and hence the commercial case for automakers – for the diesel hybrid. 

Ricardo has also been pushing the boundaries of high fuel-efficiency petrol combustion with lean-boosted direct injection technology as well as progressing with advanced research into its award-winning 2/4SIGHT concept.  The 2/4SIGHT engine uses a direct injection gasoline combustion system in which the design of intake and exhaust ports, combined with appropriate changes in fuel injection, ignition  and valve timing, enable operation both in two-stroke and four-stroke modes.  Crucially, the application of flexible valve actuation with an advanced control system which manages driver demands and coordinates operation of the valves and fuel injection equipment at an individual cylinder level, enables smooth transitions between two- and four-stroke operation without torque interrupt.  By matching the control strategy to make best use of the 2/4SIGHT engine’s capabilities, the concept has the potential to deliver up to 30 per cent benefit in fuel consumption and reduced CO2 emissions together with highly attractive driving characteristics.


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