A university center for automotive innovation has partnered with a company doing advanced technology research and development to advance commercial availability of natural gas engine systems for heavy-duty diesel trucks.

The Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research and Beaufort, S.C.-based EcoDual Inc. will focus their combined resources on conversion of diesel engines already on the road to natural gas operation and reduction of exhaust emissions.

The team then will move on will address challenges associated with optimizing natural gas use in new diesel engines under development by OEMs.

The team also will research strategies to develop clean combustion engines aimed at minimizing the need for costly and cumbersome "exhaust aftertreatment," a strategic expertise found uniquely in the CU-ICAR faculty.

"We expect to see a significant uptake in the use of natural gas for heavy-duty vehicles in the immediate future, driven by the projected low prices of this fuel compared to diesel," said Zoran Filipi, Timken endowed chair in vehicle system design at CU-ICAR. 

"The increased use of natural gas for transportation is the most cost-effective way to utilize the vast quantity of newly discovered domestic reserves," Filipi said. "This new research relationship with EcoDual is very exciting for us, and will unlock the full potential of this technology, including the possibilities to make engines run cleaner."

EcoDual's system allows conversion of a heavy-duty diesel to run on a combination of natural gas and diesel fuels. More than 60% of the engine's power is generated by burning natural gas. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the first EcoDual conversion systems for the 15L Cummins ISX. Development is under way for additional Cummins and Detroit Diesel heavy-duty engines.

In dual-fuel operation, trucks maintain the same torque, power and fuel economy as when they run on straight diesel fuel. Systems can be configured for ranges of more than 800 miles on compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas.

The EcoDual systems automatically run on 100% diesel if the natural gas tanks run out.