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One eco-innovation enables another

14/04/2012

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The scaling-up of sustainable, high-tech dyeing technology is the focus of an ongoing European Commission funded project aimed at strengthening SMEs in the colour textile industry.

A consortium of universities, small companies and large players in the energy and transport sectors from five European countries joined forces to overcome a major technological obstacle to an economy based on green energy. The three-year, €2.23 million EQUIMOTOR PLUS project redesigned car engines to resist the corrosive effects of biofuels.

The innovation is that rather than altering the fundamental structure of the engine, the researchers modified the ‘finishing’ of each component. This involved replacing standard coatings with more robust alternatives that reduce friction and wear and tear in engines working with biofuels.

Biofuels are made from plant-based materials which naturally absorb CO2. The problem is that they contain a lot of oxygen and water, which are corrosive to engines. The transport industry has dealt with this by blending biofuel with regular fuel to keep the effects to a minimum.

But a hybrid fuel such as E10, a mixture of 10% bioethanol and 90% petrol, has dropped in popularity with spreading consumer fear that it might damage their cars. In Germany, which has traditionally led the way in renewable energy use, polls show nearly three-quarters of motorists steer clear of bioethanol for this reason.

What is at stake is the acceptance and use of one of the few viable alternatives to oil, which still fuels 96% of all transport today. Whether this dependence decreases to just over half by 2050, as set out in the International Energy Agency’s most optimistic climate scenario, depends in large part on the deployment of biofuels.

EQUIMOTOR PLUS removes the difficulty of checking and maintaining fuel quality all along the distribution line and therefore offers a way to reassure consumers. “The result is not only a new breed of engines adapted to biofuels; the engines themselves are less noisy and longer-lasting,” says project leader Dr Amaya Igartua, a senior scientist at Tekniker-IK4, a research institute in Spain’s Basque country.

While Europe might still not be ready for the introduction of this new technology, one industrial partner is keen to sell to areas such as Brazil and Venezuela where consumers do see biofuels as a viable solution. Moreover the results could equally be applied to the exploitation of gas or biomass, which also have issues with corrosion.

More information

Key European research initiative

EQUIMOTOR PLUS was launched through E!SURF, EUREKA’s umbrella organisation for market-applied research on materials and nanotechnologies. EUREKA is a European R&D initiative bringing together 39 countries plus the EU as its 40th member. Together, they promote international, market-oriented research and innovation by supporting cross-border projects involving large and small industry, universities and research institutes.

More information:
EUREKA: http://www.eurakanetwork.org