Researchers combined pre-existing theories with modern machine learning techniques to create new molecules that make liquid fuel more efficient.
While many moves towards lowering transport emissions have been centred around switching to electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered cars, new research has been exploring the ability to make liquid fuels more efficient.
A team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin have designed, synthesised and tested new additives that increase fuel efficiency.
Led by Prof Stephen Dooley in Trinity’s School of Physics, the project was funded through an open competition by Total Marketing Services. The research was also supported by MaREI, the SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine.
What are fuel additives?
Fuel additives are compounds formulated to enhance the quality and efficiency of fuels used in motor vehicles, allowing them to be environmentally safe and to perform well in the engine.
Octane boosters are a particularly sought-after additive as they allow vehicles to go further on the same volume of fuel by better controlling how the engine burns the fuel.
While octane boosters are used extensively, there is currently no complete understanding on their molecular mechanism of action and, by extension, what makes one octane booster better than another.
However, the researchers in Trinity adapted pre-existing theories of chemical reaction kinetics and molecular thermodynamics for use with more modern machine learning techniques to create their new additive.
Along with Dooley, the team included Dr Andrew Ure, Dr Juan Valverde and Dr Manik Ghosh, who brought combined knowledge of molecular thermodynamics, synthetic chemistry, nuclear magnetic resonance and machine learning and mathematical modelling. They also made use of the super-computing facilities of the Irish Centre for High-End Computing.
Significant global impacts
While their research allowed them to identify many potential additives, it also allowed them to modify and add to them like Lego pieces. This allowed the team to select the ones with the best attributes for further experimental studies.
Dooley said if researchers do not explore further solutions to make vehicles that run on fossil fuels more efficient, “we risk missing important emissions targets”.
“Considering that liquid fuels are used for almost all vehicle transportation worldwide, even small improvements in efficiencies will have significant global impacts, especially in poorer countries where electric mobility is not an option,” he said.