Cutting Auto Emissions In Those Key First Minutes

During most drives around town, cars typically emit the the most pollution in the first couple of minutes. That's because the gasoline isn't warm enough to vaporize properly. As a result, up to 80% of the fuel pumped into the engine is spit out as unburned hydrocarbon particles. But a miniature oil refinery under the hood could change that.

Developed by four engineers at Ford Motor Co., the University of Texas, and Southwest Research Institute, a new onboard distillation system "cracks" liquid gasoline to harvest the lighter molecules that vaporize easily, then salts them away in a separate minitank for use in starting the car. This dual-fuel approach could slash auto emissions by 50% or more, says team leader Ronald D. Matthews, a professor of mechanical engineering in Austin.

The next step: The mini-refinery system will be moved out of the university's lab and installed in a 2001 Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicle. Matthews expects it to take about 18 months to fine-tune the system for both performance and cost. The team hopes to trim the cost to $60 from roughly $400 now. If they pull it off, the patented technology will be offered to all carmakers.

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