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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Minnesota Center for Automotive Research providing alternative-fuels data

Students assist with testing for industry, EPA

Students help MnCAR lab provide data for E15 fuel standards.

By Andrea Johnson, Prairie Star Correspondent [published in the Farm & Ranch Guide, Bisamarck, N.D., 10/19/2010]

car in the Automotive Engineering lab at Minnesota State MankatoWhen the automotive community needs answers on engines, vehicle performance or emissions, they often turn to the Minnesota Center for Automotive Research (MnCAR). Located on the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato faculty and students work together to complete unbiased applied research.

The MnCAR Lab is housed within the Automotive Engineering Technology program in the University's College of Science, Engineering & Technology. Completion of the AET program offers a four-year bachelor of science degree in the design, development and testing of vehicles.

Private companies, government agencies and policymakers rely on data collected at the MnCAR Lab.

Established in 1998, the center uses industry-standard equipment to answer questions associated with emission characteristics, fuel economy and alternative fuels for a variety of vehicles and types of engines.

A major component of the lab is a chassis dynamometer that simulates the engine strain during realistic driving conditions. The dynamometer also allows data to be collected on emissions and fuel economy. In addition, the lab has a separate engine test cell capable of accommodating three more engine dynamometers.

Director Bruce Jones says MnCAR’s research has gained credibility for conducting science-driven engine tests using diesel as well as biodiesel and ethanol blends produced from various commodities.

They currently have a grant to study small wind generation.

“The reason we do research like this is because our students will be out in the industry at some point in time,” said Jones. “We want them to have an experience with new technology that’s going on.”

The MnCAR Lab is currently focusing its research efforts investigating the effects of E15 and E20 on unmodified small engines with technical assistance from the Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA).

The first round of tests indicate excellent performance in small engines with little or no concerns when using a 15 or 20 percent ethanol blend.

“The information we find is important for agriculture - not only on the ethanol production side, but also on the consumption side,” said Jones. “A lot of operations could easily have 10-15 small engines on their farm in all kinds of equipment.”

Automotive engineering, Jones added, includes engines used for land, sea and air. It includes stationary engines that are found in power plants, lawn mowers, utility vehicles, agricultural equipment, construction equipment and marine applications.

The lab has worked hard to develop a network of industry officials.

When setting up testing protocols, MnCAR receives helpful feedback from EMA members like Briggs & Stratton, Kohler and other engine manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford and Toyota. The EMA, the Society of Auto-motive Engineers, the Oakridge National Lab, the U.S. Department of Energy and Ricardo Engineering have cited their work, Jones said.

“We’ve had excellent response from the automotive industry,” he said. “Our center has been able to remain impartial and objective. That is important.”

Recently the U.S. Environmental Pro-tection Agency referenced the MnCAR lab’s research regarding use of E15 in vehicles. On Oct. 13 the EPA announced that it granted a waiver to existing rules to allow the use of E15 (15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.

In 2007, the University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center and the MnCAR Lab conducted vehicle fuel economy and emission testing on four current model vehicles.

Their Highway Fuel Economy Tests suggested that non-flex-fuel vehicles operated on optimal ethanol blend levels -- which were higher than the standard E10 blend -- obtained better fuel mileage than on gasoline alone.

In addition, the MnCAR Lab used a California Analytical Instruments dilution system to measure vehicle tailpipe emissions.

The system included a SuperFlow AC motor-driven chassis dynamometer, a critical flow venturi, a drive cycle and a driver’s trace monitor, a Federal Test Procedure-75 driving cycle and the highway fuel-economy test driving cycle, and gas analyzers.

They determined exhaust emission values were at or below U.S. EPA standards, with one exception. A flex-fuel Chevrolet Impala exceeded the nonmethane organic gases standard for the Federal Test Procedure driving cycle on a blend of 20 percent ethanol plus Tier 2 gasoline.

Gary Mead, associate professor, and Paul Steevens, engineering specialist at MnCAR, work directly with students on research and technical plans. Jones said the department has many very capable people and students.

“For our students to go out in the industry and have background in some of these renewable, alternative fuels is really going to help them out,” said Jones. “They are in tune to what’s going on in the industry.”

Like more information? Visit the site at, or call Dr. Bruce Jones, director, Minnesota Center for Automotive Research, at (507) 389-6383.

For the online Farm & Ranch Guide story, click on

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