The acceptability of alcohol fuels for automobile engines

  • J.S. Sidhu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aim of this project was to carry out an investigastion into suitable alternatives to gasoline for use in modern automobiles. The fuel would provide the western world with a means of extending the natural gasoline resources and the third world a way of cutting down their dependence on the oil producing countries for their energy supply. Alcohols, namely methanol and ethanol, provide this solution. They can be used as gasoline extenders or as fuels on their own.In order to fulfil the aims of the project a literature study was carried out to investigate methods and costs of producing these fuels. An experimental programme was then set up in which the performance of the alcohols was studied on a conventional engine. The engine used for this purpose was the Fiat 127 930cc four cylinder engine. This engine was used because of its popularity in the European countries. The Weber fixed jet carburettor, since it was designed to be used with gasoline, was adapted so that the alcohol fuels and the blends could be used in the most efficient way. This was mainly to take account of the lower heat content of the alcohols. The adaptation of the carburettor was in the form of enlarging the main metering jet. Allowances for the alcohol's lower specfic gravity were made during fuel metering.Owing to the low front end volatility of methanol and ethanol, it was expected that `start up' problems would occur. An experimental programme was set up to determine the temperature range for a minimum required percentage `take off' that would ease start-up since it was determined that a `take off' of about 5% v/v liquid in the vapour phase would be sufficient for starting. Additions such as iso-pentane and n-pentane were used to improve the front end volatility. This proved to be successful.The lower heat content of the alcohol fuels also meant that a greater charge of fuel would be required. This was seen to pose further problems with fuel distribution from the carburettor to the individual cylinders on a multicylinder engine. Since it was not possible to modify the existing manifold on the Fiat 127 engine, experimental tests on manifold geometry were carried out using the Ricardo E6 single cylinder variable compression engine. Results from these tests showed that the length, shape and cross-sectional area of the manifold play an important part in the distribution of the fuel entering the cylinder, ie. vapour phase, vapour/small liquid droplet/liquid film phase, vapour/large liquid droplet/liquid film phase etc.The solvent properties of the alcohols and their greater electrical conductivity suggested that the materials used on the engine would be prone to chemical attack. In order to determine the type and rate of chemical attack, an experimental programme was set up whereby carburettor and other components were immersed in the alcohols and in blends of alcohol with gasoline. The test fuels were aerated and in some instances kept at temperatures ranging from 50oC to 90oC. Results from these tests suggest that not all materials used in the conventional engine are equally suitable for use with alcohols and alcohol/gasoline blends. Aluminium for instance was severely attacked by methanol causing pitting and pin-holing in the surface.In general this whole experimental programme gave valuable information on the acceptability of substitute fuels. While the long term effects of alcohol use merit further study, it is clear that methanol and ethanol will be increasingly used in place of gasoline.
Date of Award1988
Original languageEnglish


  • alcohol fuels
  • automobile engines

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