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Fueling a Low-Net Carbon Future

by Michael HornbyNovember 11, 2023
Alternative fuels like hydrogen, propane, alcohol, compressed natural gas, and other drop-in fuels have an important role to play in lowering carbon emissions.
Mike Hornby, VP of Stanadyne.
Michael Hornby, Global Vice President of Product Engineering at Stanadyne.

The propulsion challenges facing society are complex and multi-dimensional. Decarbonization is at the core of these challenges and, unfortunately, there is no singular fuel type or technology solution to solve them all. Regardless, the transportation segment requires decarbonization – and it requires it yesterday. This truth and its aggressive timetable are why the internal combustion engine is part of the larger solution to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions to address climate change trends.

Regulating tailpipe carbon will not solve the problem of carbon dioxide alone. Reducing the carbon intensity of electric grids will take time. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are great solutions for certain applications, but also need time to reach critical mass. In the meantime, we continue to rely on liquid fuels for combustion engines in conventional vehicles, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids for many on- and off-road applications. Therefore, low-carbon intensity fuels in conjunction with powertrain electrification/hybridization is needed.

Hybridization and low-lifecycle carbon intensity fuels can work together to contribute to a low-net carbon future. The internal combustion engine is ready to use low- and zero- carbon fuels to quickly move down sustainable fuels pathways, power hybrids, and enable more rapid vehicle electrification.

Any decarbonization strategy needs to utilize longer-term low carbon fuels / renewable fuels. The immediate impact of drop-in alternative fuels on legacy vehicle fleets is too great to be dismissed, especially with an existing delivery infrastructure. Industry and legislators alike need to realize it is not always about net zero. Having low-carbon content across a broad scale has a significant decarbonization impact across all transportation sectors. Low-carbon fuels offer decarbonization benefits today as we prepare for the future.

Stanadyne, a leading global fuel and air management systems supplier, is continuing to develop engine innovations enabling the efficient and economic use of low-carbon and future fuels. This continued investment is necessary, as future fuels are propulsion technology drivers with fuel system challenges still needing solutions. As we head down low-carbon fuel pathways, some fuels are thermodynamically challenging with their lower heating values. This and other characteristics make them challenging to use. Their lubricity and viscosity also can be issues, which affect engine start-stop functions and maintaining high fuel delivery pressures for cleaner combustion.

Hyper-Collaboration & Hybrids

Vehicle display in a hydrogen low carbon vehicle.

Consumers, vehicle manufacturers, and propulsion systems providers want diesel performance and total cost of ownership, but with a low-carbon fuel without the shortcomings, difficulties, and reduced range. There is a growing impatience for fuel delivery solutions to be developed. Automakers have stated a need for “hyper-collaboration” with suppliers to develop and implement clean propulsion options to meet state and federal legislation.

There are many technology pathways to achieve low- and net-zero carbon emissions. However, hybrid powertrains powered by low-carbon intensity fuels are one of the fastest tracks to decarbonization development and deployment. Alcohol, hydrogen, propane, compressed natural gas, dimethyl ether (DME) and other sustainable low-carbon intensity fuels can energize these small displacement, high-energy output, high speed engines. High-pressure fuel delivery systems operating at twice the flow help overcome alternative fuels’ low energy content. Many systems already can handle biodiesel and other drop-in renewable fuels currently available in the market.

Accelerating Engine Innovation

Powertrain and fuel system innovation are key to a sustainable future. Stanadyne is accelerating engine innovation with its growing portfolio of renewable and future fuel complaint products. Our breakthrough direct injection liquid propane system, hydrogen direct injection design platform, and high-pressure direct injection pump and injector advancements are driving internal combustion engine decarbonization.

A low-carbon approach isn’t exclusive to fuels. Stanadyne takes a lifecycle approach by designing products for remanufacturing to support a circular internal combustion engine economy. More than two decades of remanufacturing expertise at scale and quality has kept 15 million pounds of waste out of landfills.

Compete, Complement, Co-exist

Advanced internal combustion technology will continue to be a dominant part of the fuel and technology mix for decades to come. New engine designs and fuels, like hydrogen and e-fuels, will drive decarbonization. As zero emission technologies continue to emerge, expect a world where engine technologies and fuels compete, complement, and co-exist.

Michael Hornby is Global Vice President of Product Engineering at Stanadyne