Engineering research center for biofuel engines is launched

03 de dezembro de 2014

Elton Alisson  |  Agência FAPESP – On November 4, 2014, FAPESP and Peugeot Citroën do Brasil (PCBA) signed a cooperation agreement with the University of São Paulo (USP), the University of Campinas (Unicamp), the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA) and the Mauá Institute of Technology (IMT) to launch the Professor Urbano Ernesto Stumpf Engineering Research Center.

The research center will be designed to develop internal combustion engines adapted to or developed particularly for biofuels and to conduct studies on biofuel sustainability.

Among the topics to be investigated are new configurations of biofuel engines, hybrid vehicles, strategies to reduce consumption, the impacts of gas emissions, and the economic and environmental feasibility of biofuels.

“The cooperation agreement will allow convergence and interaction between Peugeot Citroën, FAPESP and Brazilian universities and research institutions. Together, these groups will operate as a network and offer specific contributions in their areas of expertise for developing biofuel engines,” said FAPESP President Celso Lafer during the signing ceremony.

The center will be headquartered at the Mechanical Engineering School at Unicamp and will comprise researchers from that university, the Thermal and Environmental Engineering Laboratory (LETE) of the Polytechnic School of USP (Poli/USP), the Laboratory of Combustion, Propulsion and Energy (LCPE) of ITA, and the Engine and Vehicle Laboratory of IMT.

Researchers from the four institutions will work together to develop studies in their specific fields.

The group from the IMT Engine and Vehicle Laboratory, for example, will focus on engine testing, an area in which they have a long tradition. Researchers from the LETE and the LCPE, meanwhile, will engage in studying the basic phenomenon of combustion.

“Integrating these different research groups will be one of the biggest challenges in building the center,” said Waldyr Gallo, professor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Unicamp and project coordinator, in comments to Agência FAPESP.

“The idea is to use the research studies that each group is already engaged in on the various aspects of automotive engineering to move forward in developing biofuel engines,” he said.

University interaction

The proposal, headed up by Waldyr Gallo, was selected during a call for proposals under the scope of the research cooperation agreement signed by FAPESP and PCBA in 2012.

The investment will be close to R$32 million for a period of 10 years, with R$8 million from FAPESP, R$8 million from the PCBA, and approximately R$16 million from the participating research institutions in operating expenses and wages.

The development of research at the center will be monitored by an international committee comprising researchers from the Paris Institute of Technology (ParisTech), the Turin Polytechnic Institute (Italy), the University of Cambridge and University College London (United Kingdom) and the Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany).

“The Engineering Research Center combines characteristics of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDC) with those of its Research Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE) program, launched in 1995, to encourage the development of research projects between university researchers and businesses,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito de Cruz, FAPESP scientific director.

“The idea is that the center will begin its operations through an intense interaction between the business and the participating universities and institutions. For this to happen, one of the rules we established is that the center would have, in addition to a coordinator, a deputy coordinator nominated by Peugeot. This coordinator would be affiliated with Unicamp as a visiting professor and could give classes and advise students during the project,” he said.

The professional who will assume this function is Franck Turkovics, manager of Powertrain Engineering and Biofuels at PSA Peugeot Citroën.

“Interactions between Peugeot Citroën and the participating Engineering Research Center universities and research institutions will be essential for developing things such as an optimized engine that efficiently uses ethanol,” Turkovics said.

Ethanol engine

According to the information presented at the event, product research and development in the field was suspended when Brazil stopped manufacturing engines that run only on ethanol in 2006 – when flex fuel vehicles began to make up the bulk of the automobile fleet.

The goal of the Engineering Research Center is to resume studies and development in this field and to test technologies such as direct injection that have not yet been used on ethanol engines.

“Engines that run on ethanol alone can work at higher compression rates and burn faster than those that run on gasoline,” Gallo said. “The combination of a variety of technologies is expected to contribute to increasing the effectiveness of ethanol-only engines.”

The researcher noted, however, that the goal of the Center is to advance knowledge regarding the use of biofuels in general –not just that regarding ethanol.

“The initial research plan will be designed to assess and use ethanol engines in light or heavy commercial vehicles. However, the long-term objective is to advance the study of other biofuels,” Gallo said.

According to Gallo, the goal is to develop a biofuel engine that is closer to diesel engines in terms of fuel efficiency.

“If we can develop a biofuel engine that is similar to diesel engines in terms of fuel efficiency, it could become a niche product in the market that could compete with other diesel engines rather than with gasoline engines, as is the case today with flex fuel engines,” he noted.

According to Gallo, flex fuel engines from the Brazilian market run mostly on gasoline because ethanol has not been distributed to all regions of the country and the engines are not optimized to use this biofuel.

“Strictly speaking, flex fuel engines could not be optimized to use ethanol because most of these vehicles run on gasoline,” Gallo said.

Also taking part in the cooperation agreement signing ceremony were Eduardo Moacyr, FAPESP vice president, José Arana Varela, CEO of the FAPESP Executive Board (CTA), and Emmanuel Hédouin, manager of research and advanced engineering at PSA Peugeot Citroën do Brasil.