Picture of a blue tractor

Zircotec to help biogas tractor engine project

Published:  19 September, 2018

Heat management specialist Zircotec is to help a government-funded initiative develop biogas engines for tractors and future potential for buses and trucks.

If successful, the technology developed will enable other vehicles, including trucks and buses, to adopt gas-fuelled engines too.

Zircotec is part of a consortium of major UK automotive suppliers to be awarded funding through the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) to develop viable and cost-effective gas-fuelled off-highway vehicle technologies. 

The consortium’s focus is to improve the performance, autonomy and efficiency of a low carbon agricultural tractor vehicle using an engine fuelled by natural gas or biogas instead of diesel. 

Significantly higher exhaust gas temperatures occur with gas-fuelled engines, compared with diesel, requiring advanced thermal management techniques to meet safety and environmental targets.  Zircotec will provide essential thermal management consultation to contain the higher exhaust temperatures, which increase from around 500°C to as much as 850°C.

APC is investing circa £10m to the consortium for the project. It aims to develop and demonstrate practical and cost-effective technologies to use methane produced from agricultural waste to power farm equipment directly, reducing emissions significantly and becoming close to carbon neutral. 

In well-to-wheels analysis of CO2 emissions, biomethane outperforms all other fuels and competes with electric power produced from wind turbines.

‘The change of fuel leads to much higher exhaust temperatures and a completely different after-treatment system to a diesel tractor, without any realistic package space remaining for conventional heat shields and insulation,’ said Zircotec group sales director Graeme Barette. 

‘This means developing compact, high performance, integrated solutions to manage the engine bay temperatures and protect the external environment. There are also significant challenges to overcome with regard to emission control, especially during cold-start conditions. 

‘We are being given the opportunity to apply Zircotec’s heat management expertise to the entire integrated system, allowing us to manage heat much more effectively, minimising heat loss in some regions so that heat can be utilised elsewhere within the system.  We are already using our existing ceramic based products in new ways to achieve the required performance; for example, by creating a ceramic second-skin for some areas we have reduced external temperatures by over 50 per cent.’

The project is scheduled for completion mid-2020.  Currently, individual thermal barrier materials are being optimised for specific applications before vehicle-based development gets under way later this year. Potential exists for future technology transfer to other transport applications, such as large commercial vehicles and buses.

Led by New Holland Agriculture, based in Basildon, Essex, the program brings together a consortium of UK technology companies alongside Zircotec, including Ricardo (engine consultancy), Eminox (after-treatment) and the National Composites Centre (high pressure composite gas tanks).

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