Modeling biofuel fitness for the sea

By University of Wisconsin-Madison | June 21, 2012

With the help of a $2 million grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, mechanical engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will develop a tool to characterize the performance of a new class of alternative fuels that could be used in maritime vehicles such as submarines and aircraft carriers.

With fossil fuels a limited resource largely controlled by other nations, the U.S. Navy—the largest user of diesel fuel in the country—understandably is interested in alternative fuels that can be produced in the United States.

However, the Navy has some unique needs for powering its fleet of ships, submarines, aircraft carriers, and other marine vessels: The fuels can't mix with water, nor can they be readily flammable. This excludes most existing biofuels.

A new type of diesel biofuel, called hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO), could be the answer for maritime vessels. It's just a matter of determining which, of many possible blends, performs best in an engine. Every fuel has a unique combination of traits, including how hot it burns, how its different components interact, and how quickly the combustion reaction starts.

And as an alternative to expensive, time-consuming tests of each of these traits for every candidate fuel, Rolf Reitz, Wisconsin distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at UW-Madison, will lead a project to create a tool for modeling fuel properties.

In fact, Reitz and his colleagues in the UW-Madison Engine Research Center will use the distribution of components in the fuel themselves to predict a fuel's performance in an engine. For example, all fuels contain different proportions of various types of chemicals, such as aromatic compounds. While each is slightly different, aromatics as a group behave similarly in combustion experiments, and Reitz's team will characterize how the proportion of aromatic compounds in a fuel affects its behavior in the Engine Research Center suite of test engines.

With rigorous experimentation on a variety of fuels, Reitz says the team can create a world-class model that predicts a fuel's behavior based solely on its chemical breakdown, allowing the Navy-and eventually, anyone else-to more easily select the best HVO blend for its needs.

"This tool can help them assess whether that fuel makes sense without having to do laborious extensive testing," Reitz says. "They'll still have to do some testing, but this lets them eliminate certain classes right off the bat."



1 Responses

  1. Seik



    One of the biggest chellanges the human race faces today is finding and using alternative energy sources. The push for means of generating electricity has been around for over 100 years, but when oil and coal-fired generators produced power inexpensively, the world put the search for alternative energy sources on the back burner for a number of years. We cannot procrastinate any longer, however, as many of the earth's natural resources, such as oil, are depleting. A Short History Lesson on Alternative Energy SourcesThe need for an alternate energy source was rekindled in the 1970 s with the oil shortage that created lines at gas stations and produced critical shortages throughout the United States. The search for alternate power generation is not limited to finding new ways of powering vehicles, as supplying cheap power for homes and industries is a continuous endeavor. There have been many advances in the search for alternative energy sources, but the price of the power produced still remains too high.Wind, water and sun are touted as renewable energy resources with claims that once the technology is perfected, making it more cost effective, they can replace the need for oil and natural gas to turn turbines in the generation process. Even geothermal power production is one of the alternate energy sources being researched.The Source Of The Energy Depends on The LocationFor many people the switch to alternative energy sources is a matter of finding the type of alternative power that works the best in their particular geographical location. Persons who live in areas that have limited exposure to the sun for example, may not be too excited about using solar panels to supply power. When the sun goes down for an extended number of days, the town can go dark.In some of those areas, wind is not a problem as it seems to blow nearly every day. Using wind power to turn turbines to generate electricity can work there, but may not work in other areas that experience less windy conditions. Another of the alternative energy sources, hydropower uses the power of rivers to turn generators, but the cost of the infrastructure to get power to the people from the generator may still be high for long range use.With the three major alternative energy sources continuing to be researched and advanced, the need for an answer to out problem becomes more evident every time a person receives their electric bill, or fills their car with gas. The resources that we have left on the planet are running out. Do your part to keep educated on the latest changes in technology and any up to date with the issues at hand to learn what you can do to help solve the energy crisis.


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