Ethanol-fueled racecars outrun conventional speedsters

Ethanol-fueled racecars outrun conventional speedsters
Argonne engineers found that ethanol-fueled engines can go just as fast as traditional racecar engines with environmentally unfriendly leaded fuel. Photo credit: Darryl Moran / Creative Commons.
( -- A group of automotive researchers from the Argonne National Laboratory and industry have shown that a fuel-injected racing car engine fueled by E-85, an ethanol-based fuel, outperforms the same engine with a carburetor and leaded racing fuel.

Specifically, the group, dubbed Project Green, demonstrated during benchmark testing a seven percent improvement in the torque and speed of a General Motors' CT525 LS3 fuel-injected engine with a catalytic convertor attached to the exhaust system and renewable E-85 in the tank, said Forrest Jehlik, principal at Argonne's Center for Transportation Technology. The General Motors engine is a popular choice among circle track racers.

"The testing disproves two widely and firmly held beliefs in the circle track racing community - that carbureted engines are inherently more powerful than engines equipped with a fuel injection system; and that E-85, which is less expensive than leaded racing fuel, is not well-suited as a fuel for race cars," said Jehlik, who leads the benchmark testing for Project Green.

Aside from the garages of classic and vintage car collectors, race tracks are about the only venues these days where engines with carburetors are in active use. Fuel injection systems began replacing carburetors in earnest in the early 1980s because they allow for greater as a result of precise and even fuel distribution to each cylinder.

Moreover, tailpipe emissions from cars with fuel injection engines are lowered due to the precise metering of fuel, thereby reducing the amount of oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide combustion byproducts.

Catalytic convertors, which further reduce the amount of emissions generated by internal combustion engines, are not normally part of the exhaust systems of racing cars. But Project Green's testing of the GM engine utilizing catalytic convertors resulted in a 50 percent to 60 percent decrease in nitrogen oxide, one of the main ingredients involved in the formation of ground-level ozone.

However, there was not an appreciable decrease in carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions. After analyzing the test data to determine why the decrease was so slight, the team developed a secondary air-injection system that will increase the level of oxygen in the exhaust stream and thereby allow oxidation of those by-products. Results from on-track testing set for the week of July 12th at the New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., are expected to validate that new approach.

Professional circle track racing series have been reluctant to require racing teams to use today's cleaner and more efficient automotive technologies and fuels in their vehicles. But Project Green is optimistic that these technologies will eventually be adopted by the sport, just as the American Le Mans Series' Green Challenge has adopted green racing principles established by DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Society of Automotive Engineers.

"If you start getting the racing community to see that cars can run just as fast and more efficiently with fuel-injected engines and domestically produced biofuels that are more environmentally friendly and less expensive, it has the potential to really catch on with race car drivers and their large fan base," Jehlik said.

"The bottom line is that we have shown that modern fuel-injection technology, renewable E-85 fuel and catalytic convertors provide better performance and increased efficiency while reducing emissions; it is a reality today. Truly, there are no compromises. It’s a win-win for everyone, and we believe it is the future of racing and a step towards sustainability in the transportation fuels we use as a country."

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Citation: Ethanol-fueled racecars outrun conventional speedsters (2010, July 7) retrieved 25 April 2019 from
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Jul 07, 2010
The brake specific guel consumption is still a lot higher... you'd have to pit the car much more often. Even if all cars are forced to make the change at the same time it would still require strategy changes.

Jul 08, 2010
E85 has been known to be the "poor man's race fuel" for years. There is a huge problem with it. Three problems actually. You would need to use a lot more fuel to get the same power output, meaning miles per gallon on e85 would suck. There are not enough e85 stations in mist states. And the third reason is that you will never be able to make enough e85 for everyone currently on the road without covering half the planet in corn fields. Bottom line, e85 might ONLY be good for race cars...

Jul 08, 2010
here in Brazil, where over half the fleet used ethanol only in the 80s and nowadays some 90% of the fleet has flex-fuel engines (run on any mix of gas and ethanol), anybody knows in practical everyday life terms that your car HAS A BOOST with ethanol... it DOES get more powerful, gets faster. But it consumes more fuel.

does anybody still has to make experiments to prove something everybody already knows?

Jul 08, 2010
My sad experience with fuel injection on the race track is electronic malfunction. I lost nearly all power because of failure of a tiny part, which we couldn't diagnose until we got the car back to the shop on Monday. Carburetors are much simpler, and any minor malfunction can be diagnosed and fixed at the track within five minutes.

A successful race car needs to be as reliable and fixable as possible. Even if fuel injection is theoretically a little more efficient, it is a bad bet under the high-stress, high-stakes environment of the race. Hopefully, fuel injection will continue to become more reliable and efficient, because eventually it will be mandatory.

Jul 08, 2010
This isn't new. Ethanol has a higher octane rating.

Jul 09, 2010
The problem with repair is familiarity and tools to diagnose and fix the system. A good electronic system will be more trouble free than a carburetor. But it's different, so you need to learn a new bag of tricks to make it work really well.
Formula 1, among others has used electronically controlled fuel injection for years and years. A decent electronic system is able to diagnose itself in most cases, much like a production car and tell you what might need to be replaced or even what wire has a problem.

Jul 09, 2010
Multi-point electronically controlled injection will always work better overall and more consistently than any carb., especially where there is heavy vibration or acceleration forces on the engine such as an off road or racing application.
1) no half filled fuel bowl sloshing around,
2) no issues with wet fuel flow vs. air flow in the manifold to each individual cyl. This eliminates cyl. to cyl. fuel mal-distribution so each cylinder can work at its potential.
3) not having to worry about wet fuel flow in the manifold allows freedom to design the air intake manifold to be tuned for an application, more analogous to an exhaust header.
4) improved transient response
5) improved starting, warm up, low speed and part throttle operation

E85 is higher octane so allows for higher compression ratio and works great with boosted engines.

Jul 09, 2010
What's Argonne doing wasting their time with a NASCAR circle track car anyway?

Jul 10, 2010
Seems they've wasted their time, this is a 'known quantity'. A class of racing in Australia (V8 Supercars) has been using E85 for the past 18 months or so.

Jul 11, 2010
Ethanol is history.Butanol is the up and coming altfuel.Not as corrosive as ethanol,and almost the same energy density as gasoline: http://www.butano...dex.html

Jul 11, 2010
Ethanol is history.Butanol is the up and coming altfuel.Not as corrosive as ethanol,and almost the same energy density as gasoline: http://www.butano...dex.html

I prefer nitro-methane.

Jul 13, 2010
No news here. Both E-85 especially with a higher compression it can handle makes more power and FI is a no brainer.

The thing about needing more is it costs a lot less then even gas, not to mention racing gas, and you can just do a larger gas tank. Most roundy-round racing isn't that long where a stock tank won't last the full race.

Nor does Ethanol reduce food supplies because not only do you get ethanol but corn oil and dried mash which is a much higher quality animal or human food than the yellow cord is which isn't eaten by humans, just animals. We eat white corn.

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