Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne and Marathon join forces to optimize fuels and engines

By Greg CunninghamMarch 9, 2016

The modern internal combustion engine is a complex and finely tuned system where small changes in one area can have important ramifications on the whole. Decades of dedicated work to maximize efficiency have refined engines to the point where major improvements require innovative approaches that look at the entire system.

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is partnering with Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC) to support an ongoing effort by DOE to explore fuels and engines holistically in search of greater efficiency. By advancing on both fronts simultaneously, the researchers hope to make substantial gains that would not be possible by working on engines and fuels individually.

"This is an exciting area of exploration that we think can yield significant benefits in overall efficiency," said Thomas Wallner, Manager for Fuels, Engine and Aftertreatment Research at Argonne's Center for Transportation Research. "Co-optimization of fuels and engines has been identified as an area that is ripe for improvement."

The collaboration between Argonne and MPC is designed to support the "Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines" initiative, which was recently launched jointly by the DOE's Vehicle Technologies Office and Bioenergy Technologies Office. The new collaboration leverages MPC's and Argonne's complementary capabilities in fuel design, analysis and production, as well as advanced engine combustion and emissions formation.

MPC and Argonne will collaborate on research projects, as well as exchanging knowledge and expertise in fuel characterization and fuel characterization equipment. The collaborators will also share information on efficiency, performance and emissions assessments of advanced combustion concepts using current and potential future fuels. This agreement builds on existing joint efforts, including MPC's support of Argonne's experimental research activities, by supplying samples of test fuel and refinery streams for research and testing at Argonne.

MPC also provided Argonne's Center for Transportation Research with a cooperative fuel research (CFR) engine, a test platform extensively used throughout the industry for testing related to the performance of fuels for internal combustion engines. MPC has been operating CFR engines for decades and has developed extensive know-how and expertise related to setup, test methods and potential improvements to this widely used testing tool. Argonne's engineers will work alongside MPC experts to ensure efficient knowledge transfer and comprehensive assessment of potential improvements to the test setup and methods.

"Automotive and fuels researchers have made significant strides in efficiency over the past 30 years," said MPC Fuels Technology Manager Fred Walas. "As our products become more and more specialized, we realize we cannot optimize the fuel and engines independently. Instead, we must treat them as a combined system to achieve higher efficiencies economically."

Acknowledging the significant role that internal combustion engines are likely to play in the area of road transport for the foreseeable future, Argonne and MPC will use this project to advance the state-of-the-art of research in the area fuel-engine interactions and jointly disseminate research findings in the form of peer-reviewed publications, presentations and reports.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation is the nation's fourth largest refiner, with a crude oil refining capacity of approximately 1.8 million barrels per calendar day in its seven-refinery system. Marathon brand gasoline is sold through approximately 5,600 independently owned retail outlets across 19 states. In addition, Speedway LLC, an MPC subsidiary, owns and operates the nation's second largest convenience store chain, with approximately 2,770 convenience stores in 22 states. MPC owns, leases or has ownership interests in approximately 8,300 miles of crude and light product pipelines and 5,000 miles of gas gathering and natural gas liquids (NGL) pipelines. MPC also has ownership interests in more than 50 gas processing plants, more than 10 NGL fractionation facilities and a condensate stabilization facility. Through subsidiaries, MPC owns the general partner of MPLX LP, a midstream master limited partnership. MPC's fully integrated system provides operational flexibility to move crude oil, NGLs, feedstocks and petroleum-related products efficiently through the company's distribution network and midstream service businesses in the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast and Gulf Coast regions.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.