By Mark Williams
Ford made quite a bit of news at the 2010 SAE World Congress this week in Detroit when it said that many of its upcoming technological advances in smaller gas engines came about by trying to make them more like traditional diesels.
Technologies such as direct injection, turbocharging, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), high-pressure injection and higher compression ratios are just a few of the overlapping features Ford will use in its new breed of smaller EcoBoost gasoline engines. Ford plans to introduce a V-6 EcoBoost engine into the F-150 lineup — which currently only offers less efficient and more powerful V-8s — by the fourth quarter of this year, but it has not released any power or fuel economy details.
Our guess is Ford will include the new EcoBoost motor along with a host of other weight-saving and fuel-efficient technologies, ensuring that this new option package will offer the highest gas mileage for any full-size pickup. But we’ll have to wait and see.
One of the most encouraging technologies not currently used in the EcoBoost engine but being seriously considered is a cooled EGR that could improve overall efficiency and reduce the tendency for an engine to knock.
The way it works is pretty simple: Gases are cooled in a heat exchanger before being pumped back into the cylinders, where the combustion temperatures will be lowered. Lower combustion temperatures mean more dense air and a bigger bang.
So far, this type of diesel technology works best with smaller engines, but there’s no telling where this melding of diesel and gas technologies might lead.
“When it comes to smaller-displacement engines, EcoBoost is the perfect solution for most consumers,” said Barb Samardzich, Ford’s vice president of powertrain engineering. “They get outstanding fuel economy and low-end torque.”
Although these advancements seem encouraging, they don’t come without costs. High-pressure common-rail systems are expensive to use, even if they don’t run at the extremely high pressures that the Power Stroke, Cummins or Duramax do.
“An EcoBoost engine has much higher operating temperatures than a diesel engine ... and many parts (on our current engines) had to be upgraded to special metals and alloys that hold up to that environment,” said Brett Hinds, manager of Ford’s advanced engine design. “Our exhaust manifolds, for example, are made of stainless steel, and the turbochargers (on all our EcoBoost engines) are made from high-temperature cast-iron alloy.”
Bob Fascetti, director of large gas and diesel engine engineering, believes the technology will expand. “We’re introducing about 30 powertrains in the next couple of years to power everything from small cars to large pickup trucks. Our experience with a wide range of engines allows us to take the best solutions and apply them to many platforms, ultimately benefiting our customers,” he said.
It sounds like if Ford doesn’t eventually put a small diesel in the F-150 soon, it will at least have an EcoBoost gas engine with many of the same technologies.