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Bio-fuel effects and seasonal fuel property variations related to abnormal combustion occurrences observed in the field

Publication Type
ORNL Report
Publication Date

Since 2015, the automotive industry has regularly observed sharp increases in customer complaints of poor driveability and increased warranty claims during the months of September and October. These persistent seasonal complaint increases have been tracked to occur from increased abnormal combustion events that coincide with the seasonal transition from summer to winter fuel volatility, beginning on September 15th annually. The Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of gasoline during this seasonal transition has been found to be the primary property attributed to this annual issue. It’s hypothesized that an increase in volatile butanes and pentanes from advanced petroleum recovery techniques and hydrofracking production has hastened the transition from summer to winter fuel volatility in the marketplace, rather than the gradual increase of the RVP over time as historically intended. At worst, mid-winter fuel, with an RVP ranging from 12 to 16 psi, depending on location in the U.S., enters the market while ambient temperatures can still be above average for the winter season. This combination of high volatility fuel with unseasonably warm weather will increase fuel system flash boiling, injector spray cavitation, and spray collapse inside the engine’s combustion chamber, ultimately linking fuel property variations to abnormal engine combustion processes. This CRADA program will investigate these known knowledge gaps by coupling with two national laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to employ both unique tools and expertise throughout the industry to provide the insight, knowledge, and data critical to understand the observed interactions.

Overall findings of this work are that fuel wall retention increased SPI proportionally, and fuels with an increased distillation (i.e. energy fraction) above the wall temperature increased fuel retention. Likewise fuels with increased enthalpy of vaporization (HoV) increased fuel retention proportional to the temperature reduction from the HoV (~13K reduction in this work). Thus, fuel with increased HoV and increased fuel distillation above the linear temperature also exhibited increased SPI rates. Fuel with high RVP did exhibit increased fuel spray collapse form spray imaging measurements, but in SPI testing the high volatility of these fuels at the tested conditions did not necessarily increase SPI rates despite exhibiting increased spray collapse in injector imaging and increased spray-wall impingement measured in fired engine testing. It was also found that spray imaging showed collapse was possible at throttled conditions, but this was not relevant to high boost pressures relevant to SPI conditions, however, under transient load and or speed encountered in real-world operation fuel spray collapse could affect fuel retention and real-world SPI that were not probed in the automated high load test sequence of this work.