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Exploring alternative fuels

With its unique expertise, the Nebraska 
Tractor Test Lab become involved in 
alternative fuel systems research

When the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab (NTTL) was originally created, its mandate was pretty specific. Measuring farm tractor horsepower and publishing proven numbers for each model before it could be sold in Nebraska was the facility’s sole purpose. But now, with almost a century of experience under its belt, the Lab has developed a skill set that makes it the ideal place for other avenues of mechanical research.

As a self-funding organization, the NTTL has been able to generate additional revenue by working on a contract basis for manufacturers and other governmental agencies on specific projects outside of, or similar to, its original mandate. One of the areas where other organizations have turned to the Lab for research assistance is in evaluating alternative fuel systems.

Alternative fuel testing

“We’ve played with some things on some research proposals,” says Roger Hoy, director of the NTTL. “Like the Nebraska Corn Board financed some projects on what did ethanol do to spark ignition engines. We had an engine optimized to ethanol. We did some testing on that and gained some numbers.”

One of the most interesting projects NTTL staff have worked on so far involved a modification to a standard diesel engine, mixing diesel with ethanol as a combined fuel source.

“On diesel engines we’ve done some interesting stuff,” Hoy continues. “You can’t mix ethanol with diesel in the fuel tank; they don’t mix. So what we did instead was induct some ethanol into the air intake. That was kind of interesting because what we found was we could replace diesel energy with ethanol energy and the thermal efficiency of the engine was essentially unchanged. What worked best was 60 per cent ethanol and 40 per cent water. That had some beneficial affects on emissions as well. It brought nitrous oxide emissions way down.”

Only the initial research has been done so far. “(The project) was more of a what is the potential, what are the possibilities,” he adds.

If mixing water and alternative fuels together inside an internal combustion engine sounds vaguely familiar, it should. A few aftermarket manufacturers currently offer methanol-water or water-only injection kits for some diesel and even some gasoline engines. The general concept has been around for a while. Methanol and water injection was originally used to generate additional power in the engines of some fighter aircraft built during the Second World War.

“It’s interesting because the graduate student that did the work, one of his references was a (World War II) publication from Messerschmitt,” Hoy explains. “One of the dive bombers they built, they were injecting methanol into the engine. It goes to show there are likely some other possibilities out there that haven’t been explored that are worth looking at.” †

About the author


Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.



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