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DOE to Launch Initiative to Find An Improved Fuel-Engine Combination Optima

The Optima Initiative is a collaboration between industry stakeholders and the Department of Energy's (DOE) National Laboratories that aims to achieve fuel efficiency gains and lower carbon emissions through co-optimization of fuels and engines.

"We have been using gasoline for over 100 years, during which the fuel has remained relatively unchanged. So even today, we are optimizing engines around a fuel that was never formulated to take advantage of our current knowledge of combustion engine design,"  said Patrick Davis of SMI, who was intimately involved with the program in his previous role as Director of the Vehicle Technologies Office with the DOE.  

The Vehicle Technologies Office, Bioenergy Technologies Office and the National Laboratories have been working to lay the groundwork over the past year, especially in light of the President's FY16 budget request, which includes $27 million for Optima, with a goal to ramp up research activities and fully launch the effort by the October start date.

"From the perspective of total system efficiency, almost everyone agrees that if you could change the fuel, you would," said Davis. However, efficiency is not the only factor. Other issues are important too, such as 1) Is this new fuel compatible with our existing fueling infrastructure, 2) Can this new fuel be manufactured affordably and "at scale," and 3) Is this new fuel "backwards compatible" to fuel vehicles that are on the road today. Optima's quest to find that perfect fuel and engine combination will take place in stages. The first step will consist of creating a predictive knowledge base that will allow determination of the best available fuels for any given combustion environment and will also include general screening of new fuel properties. The second step will include further refinement of fuel properties with concurrent engine development.  

"The effort will likely identify multiple solutions depending on the weighting of the various criteria. Identifying the best option will require judgement and consensus. All of the options will also have negatives, but hopefully a robust dataset will allow down-selection to an affordable solution that major stakeholders can support," said Davis. After all, the key to success will depend on the extent to which stakeholders in fuel and auto industries can work together to co-design new engines operating on a new fuel that can achieve broad-based market introduction and success.