Michigan Engineering News

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Video: 100% renewable diesel cars can reduce carbon emissions while waiting for electric vehicles

Researchers estimate that there was an 80% carbon footprint reduction when using renewable hydrocarbon biofuels instead of traditional petroleum-sourced fuels


André Boehman: We’re working with General Motors on a small vehicle demonstration. We’ve been running them on 100% renewable diesel. It has none of the sulfur or aromatics that conventional petroleum-derived diesel fuels have, and my back of the envelope calculation is about an 80% reduction in carbon footprint overnight. 

[Newscasters]: Ford recently announced major plans to expand their…General Motors plans to stop making gas powered cars by 2035…Volkswagen has 75, G.M. has 20 coming by 2023.

André Boehman: There is this wave of announcements from various vehicle manufacturers that they’re going to be making all electric vehicles. We’re stuck with, then, the carbon intensity of the electric grid. If I can have a low carbon fuel, I can have just as much if not more carbon footprint reduction and I can do that immediately. I can do that overnight. Compatibility thus far looks good. I’ve been driving around for about five months on this. We’re recording real world fuel economy, regular commuting, and real-world driving. We’ve shown that the vehicles transition to the renewable diesel smoothly, they’ve been able to operate without any  malfunctions through the cold weather period. If the industry can see ways to make this feedstock at a larger scale then we end up in this much greener transportation future.

Video description:

Working with General Motors, University of Michigan mechanical engineers put together a renewable diesel vehicle demonstration. Using 100% renewable hydrocarbon biofuels, engineers estimate that there was an 80% reduction in the carbon footprint over the use of traditional, petroleum-sourced fuels. Both a Chevy Cruze diesel and GMC Sierra Pickup diesel were used in this demonstration.

While the move from petroleum fuels to biofuels is not as environmentally drastic as a complete transition from diesel to electric motor power, switching to vehicles run with biofuels is a more immediate solution. Even though it is estimated that half of new cars sold will be electric in the year 2030, it will still take many more years after to make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions. The transition from gasoline to biofuels can occur while electric vehicle technology is further developed and institutionalized.

The renewable diesel fuel used in the demonstration consists of bio-derived hydrocarbons from plant oils and animal fats. Because this carbon comes from within the biogenic carbon cycle, it would add much less carbon to the atmosphere than traditional diesel fuel.

This research was led by André Boehman, a Professor at University of Michigan Mechanical Engineering and Director of the W.E. Lay Automotive Laboratory.

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