ORNL scientists developing more fuel efficient, cleaner cars

ORNL scientists developing more fuel efficient, cleaner cars

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By ANN KEIL
6 News Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) -- Scientists and engineers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are investing time and money into project that could produce cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars, as U.S. automakers struggle financially.

As 6 News reported two weeks ago, President Obama has given automakers until 2016 to conform to strict national standards for fuel efficiency to save energy and protect the climate.

"What you're looking at is a dynamometer, which is a treadmill for cars," says Tim Theiss, a manager at Fuels, Engines and Emissions Research Center.

Theiss points out a Dodge Charger scientists are using to test kits meant to covert regular car engines to run on ethanol. Most of that information is coming right out of the pipes.

"All the equipment you're seeing around us allows us to measure normal pollutants and the unregulated pollutants that maybe more toxic," Theiss says.

Not only is ORNL's research aimed at improving biofuels and reducing emissions, scientists are advancing engines, developing hybrids and creating cost-effective, environmentally sound materials that will help create the cars of the future.

"It's not going to be easy. We don't have one single solution so we have to work on a suite of technologies," says Richard Boeman, director of the Transportation Program at ORNL.

Inside one of the numerous labs, scientists are trying to develop a material to be used for car parts that's as strong as steel. but much lighter in weights so the vehicle can be more fuel efficient.

With much of the U.S. auto industry in the red, Boeman says ORNL plays an even greater role in its partnerships with car and gas companies.

Boeman says much of the technology being tested in ORNL's labs could produce cars that far surpass President Obama's terms, which raise the average fuel economy standards for cars and trucks by 2016.

Under the changes, the overall fleet average would have to be 35.5 mpg by 2016, with cars reaching 39 mpg and light trucks hitting 30 mpg.

"We are the largest funded program within the DOE system and we have seen boosts in our funding," says Boeman.

While he admits some technologies might take years to develop, Boeman says small advances under the hood have been adding up and will ultimately help develop cars Americans want and need.  

If President Obama's proposal works it would save close to 2 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years.

It would be similar to removing 177 million cars from the roads over the next six-and-a-half years.

Before the proposal, automakers were dealing with a patchwork of state laws.

In Tennessee, there are no state laws governing vehicle emissions. They vary by county.

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