DETROIT – Argonne National Laboratory’s mammoth Advanced Photon Source (APS) is giving the industry a clearer picture of combustion -- and the future of emissions reduction.

One European-based parts supplier tells Ward’s that data derived from the use of Argonne’s 0.6-mile (1 km)-wide APS will lead to development of cleaner, more efficient fuel injectors. And Illinois-based Argonne suggests the circular structure will give powertrain engineers greater understanding of soot formation.

“You might well ask how the automobile industry would use a half-billion dollar machine that turns out super-bright X-rays?” says Argonne’s Larry R. Johnson, adding the institute itself was at “somewhat of a loss” to solve the riddle.

And then the light went on: fuel spray.

Researchers have observed fuel injector performance using lasers. But there are limitations associated with their use. The same is true of the “ports” or windows through which lasers are applied. Neither stands up to the robust test procedures required for producing truly reliable results. Says Johnson: “You can see what’s happening … briefly. As soon as you have a couple of cycles of combustion, (the port) clouds over. So you clean it off and do it again. Clean it off, do it again. X-rays, though, can go where lasers have not gone before.”

And that’s near the nozzle.

“Lasers can’t penetrate the high-density area near the nozzle,” Johnson says of the fuel spray pattern at the injector’s tip. Because of that, experts “have all made an assumption that it’s so dense, it must be 100% liquid at that point and has not had a chance to atomize.”

Enter Robert Bosch GmbH, which subjected some of its fuel injectors to examination using Argonne’s APS.

“It turns out that we could look near the nozzle,” Johnson says. “And lo and behold, we discovered there was already some atomization. Right at the nozzle tip. So, this has a big implication, as you can imagine, because all the computer models are wrong.”

Bosch isn’t surprised as much as it’s intrigued. Says team leader Johannes Schaller: “They saw something that we couldn’t know before.”

Optical tools cannot penetrate fuel spray because they cause reflection, not unlike the effect of using high-beams on a foggy road. The result is opaqueness.

Now, armed with data from Argonne’s APS, Bosch is exploring how to simulate fuel spray patterns and develop physical and numerical models that will lead, in five or 10 years, to new injector designs.

“And what’s even more important, emission control,” Schaller adds.

In short, Argonne’s APS brings researches closer to creating “the transparent engine,” Johnson says.

Adds colleague Harvey Drucker, Argonne’s associate laboratory director -- energy, environmental science and technology: “We also believe that we can really look into a combusting stream. With ignited gas you begin to get all kinds of complex hydrocarbons. OK, well, when do they start coming? Eventually, we will be able to understand what is the chemistry of combustion. And in particular, how condensation occurs, which deals with, really, how particulates are born.”

Here lies the root of soot development, Johnson suggests.

“So what we’re looking at now is the possibility of looking at soot formation in a combustion process,” he says. “Using the Advanced Photon Source, (researchers) can look at nano-sized particles in formation. Which has not been done before.”

Other powertrain breakthroughs being refined by Argonne include:

· an on-board hydrogen reformer for fuel cell technology that is 13 in. (33-cm) long and 3 in. (8 cm) in diameter,

· numerous patented processes for reducing diesel engine NOx emissions.

Eric Mayne’s e-mail address is