Researchers test new additives to boost fuel efficiency

Led by Professor Stephen Dooley in Trinity’s School of Physics, the Trinity researchers started the project as a result of an open competition by TOTAL, where their proposal welcomed several applications from research teams across the globe.

The research was funded by TOTAL Marketing Services and supported by MaREI, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine.

The scientific work conducted by Trinity was focused on determining systematically what makes some molecular structures better octane boosters that others. By modifying these structures and adding molecular components, the researchers were able to calculate if a given structure met the theoretical principles to become an efficient octane booster.

Fuel additives may become particularly important if applied to biofuels, which already have low greenhouse gas potential.

Professor Stephen Dooley, Principal Investigator in Energy Science at Trinity, explains:

We risk missing important emissions targets if we do not explore further solutions which may allow vehicles to become more efficient and less environmentally harmful. Considering that liquid fuels are used for almost all vehicle transportation worldwide, even small improvements in efficiencies will have significant global impacts, especially in poorer countries where electric mobility is not an option

Fuel additives are used extensively to improve the technical properties of fuels, enabling them to be environmentally safe and perform well in the engine. Typical additives range from simple dyes, to distinguish different types of fuels, to antioxidants to prevent degradation, and to octane boosters to make them more efficient.

Of these, octane-boosting additives are the most sought after as they allow the vehicle to go further on the same volume of petrol (gasoline) by better controlling how the engine burns the fuel.

The Trinity team (Professor Stephen Dooley, Dr Andrew Ure, Dr Manik Ghosh, Dr John O Brien), adapted pre-existing theories of chemical reaction kinetics and molecular thermodynamics for use with more modern machine learning techniques, making use of the super-computing facilities of the Irish Center for High End Computing (ICHEC).

This allowed them to identify many potential additives, but only those which the theory calculations suggested had the best attributes were chosen for the risky and difficult experimental studies.

The research outputs that have arisen from this collaboration have been excellent. The results are relevant to a number of existing business units in the company and there has already been discussion on how to integrate this knowledge across different functions

Dr Denis Lançon, TOTAL coordinator for collaborative research with universities, said.

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