UBC researcher receives federal boost to develop natural gas fuel injection prototype

October 15, 2010

The University of British Columbia welcomed the announcement of federal support for research and development of natural gas engine technology.

The federal research grant was announced today at UBC's Vancouver campus by Andrew Saxton, Member of Parliament for North Vancouver, on behalf of the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry.

UBC researcher Steven Rogak will receive, under the Automotive Partnership Canada program, $499,824 over five years to develop fuel injector prototypes for natural gas engines. Partnering with UBC on this initiative is Westport Innovations Inc., a Vancouver-based UBC spin-off company that will provide financial support and essential in-kind contributions. Westport is a leading developer of technologies that enable vehicles to operate on clean-burning alternative fuels.

"Today's announcement demonstrates the Government of Canada's clear and continued support for university-industry partnerships promoting excellence in research," said Don Brooks, UBC Assoc. Vice President Research and International. "This investment will significantly boost UBC's collaborations with the automotive industry to provide Canadians with efficient and environmentally responsible transportation technologies."

"Our goal is to develop a fuel injector that will make natural gas engines competitive with diesel engines, by eliminating dangerous particulate emissions without sacrificing efficiency or adding cost," said Rogak, associate director of the UBC Clean Energy Research Centre and an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science.

"Natural gas has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20 per cent, compared to conventional engines," said Rogak. "But until our society places a higher price on carbon emissions, it is essential that the cleaner engine technology can compete with the incumbent technology on cost and performance."

"Our government recognizes the importance of leadership and vision in the industry and has created Automotive Partnership Canada to help the industry make greener, better-performing vehicles," said Saxton. "This program will create jobs and strengthen the economy for future generations."

Industry Minister Clement announced this morning in Hamilton four projects under the Automotive Partnership Canada program, representing an investment of more than $14.9 million over five years for automotive R&D projects worth a total of $28.6 million.

Announced by Clement in April 2009, Automotive Partnership Canada is a five-year, $145 million initiative to support collaborative research and development to drive the Canadian automotive industry to greater levels of innovation.

Fuel Injection and Natural Gas Engines

In all internal combustion engines, the quality of fuel injection has a profound influence on the emissions and performance of the engine.

UBC Mechanical Engineering Assoc. Prof. Steven Rogak is working on a prototype fuel injector using Westport Innovation's High Pressure Direct Injection (HPDI) technology that will allow heavy-duty diesel engines to run primarily on natural gas and retain some of the advantages of diesel engines, including reliability and high thermodynamic efficiency.

The operation of the injector is complex and the cost of prototyping is high because of the large number of high-precision parts, such as gas-tight sliding needle valves and the nozzles, which include an array of injection holes less only half a millimeter in diameter. The timing and duration of injections must be controlled to within about 50 microseconds.

Single Cylinder Research Engine

To evaluate fuel injector prototypes, the UBC research team tests the gaseous emissions via a sophisticated piece of UBC equipment called the Single Cylinder Research Engine (SCRE). The SCRE - with its engine, compressors and controls - represents more than $1 million of infrastructure and costs more than $80,000 per year to operate due to the sophisticated instrumentation and technician costs

Injector Visualization Chamber

A benefit of the project has been the development of the Injector Visualization Chamber, which can determine injector flow and spray characteristics at realistic fuel and background pressures.

University of British Columbia

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