Caterpillar donates gasoline engine for emissions research project

Researchers Bret Windom and Dan Olsen of Colorado State University’s Motors and Energy Conversation Lab at the Powerhouse Energy Campus. (Photo: Colorado State University)

Caterpillar will donate a CAT G3512J to Colorado State University for a research project aimed at reducing methane emissions, the university announced.

The 52-liter, 1,035-horsepower lean-burn natural gas research engine will reside at CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Campus. The research team includes Caterpillar engineers David Montgomery and David Ginter.

The Cat engine will arrive at Powerhouse later this year, and researchers will spend the next year and a half designing and testing their crankcase breather rerouting system. If they receive additional funding, they will then test their system at a gas compression site in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin, the university said.

The project is part of a series of studies aimed at reducing methane emissions. It is funded in part by a $1.5 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to Colorado State University to fund research into technologies that reduce methane emissions.

Daniel Olsen, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Bret Windom, an associate professor in the same department, are among 12 teams that have received a total of $35 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E ) from the DOE. The projects support the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan announced at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

CSU researchers received a $1.5 million grant for work to reduce emissions from four-stroke, lean-burn natural gas engines typically found at compressor stations between engine heads. natural gas wells and major interstate pipelines that transport gas over long distances. In particular, they are looking to design a system to reduce the methane normally emitted by the engine crankcase.

The crankcase is the part of the engine where the crankshaft rotates. Small amounts of gases from the engine cylinder – fuel, air and products of combustion – can leak past the piston rings and into the crankcase. Typically these gases, including methane, collect in the crankcase and are vented to the atmosphere.

Ventilation is part of the engine design, preserving engine life and ensuring reliability in the field. However, the resulting methane emissions are a significant problem for industry and one that CSU researchers believe they can solve.

By some estimates, crankcase methane emissions account for 20% or more of the total methane emissions from these engine systems.

The researchers’ plan is to develop a system that collects crankcase ventilation gases, filters them and redirects them to the engine. It would be much like the exhaust gas recirculation systems found in many vehicles, in which exhaust gases are redirected to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

“Methane normally vented to the atmosphere would instead be burned by the engine,” Olsen said. He directs the Energy Institute’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, where the research will take place. Their goal is to reduce crankcase methane emissions by more than 75%.

The CSU team is unique among those funded by the ARPA-E program to focus on the particular problem of crankcase emissions.

“We believe this is a solvable problem that will certainly reduce methane emissions in the natural gas industry,” Windom said.

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