We’re hearing a lot about hydrogen these days because it powers all of those future fuel cells. Well hydrogen burns, too, and engines have been converted to run on hydrogen alone. Hydrogen, it turns out, is pretty neat stuff. So, what is a plasma fuel reformer and what does it have to do with hydrogen or motorcycles or anything else? Pay attention, this takes some explaining.
Everyone is trying to improve gasoline engines so they burn less fuel and create less pollution, much of the pollution being in the form of nitrogen oxides or NOx. One way to cut down NOx is to run lean, run lean enough and you eliminate NOx altogether, of course when you get too lean you first get knock and then you get nothing because there’s not enough fuel in the air/fuel mixture to ignite.
ArvinMeritor has been experimenting with the plasma fuel reformer where they create a continuous spark (plasma) in a chamber filled with gasoline vapor and air whereby the fuel dissociates to create a hydrogen-rich gas of 20% hydrogen, 20% carbon monoxide, CO, and the rest nitrogen. This gas, when used in the combustion process, enables a dramatically leaner engine, increasing fuel efficiency and dropping NOx emissions. What’s neat is that the hydrogen is created on demand and the gas raises the octane rating of the fuel about 20 points, your 87 octane pump gas just became 107 octane! That means you can raise compression, use a turbo and get great performance from a much smaller engine. Hydrogen on demand means you don’t need hydrogen filling stations either.
This technology was developed to lower emissions in heavy trucks but as they kept working with it the performance possibilities became apparent. This won’t be available for several years but it sounds very promising.
I noticed this reading one of those waiting room issues of Motor Trend. Never know what you’ll find. Hmm… let’s see, what’s that over there, Ladies Home Journal? Sure, why not?