Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Internal combustion engine


Carbonaceous particulate matter (PM), comprising black carbon (BC), primary organic aerosol (POA) and secondary organic aerosol (SOA, from atmospheric aging of precursors), is a highly toxic vehicle exhaust component. Therefore, understanding vehicle pollution requires knowledge of both primary emissions, and how these emissions age in the atmosphere. We provide a systematic examination of carbonaceous PM emissions and parameterisation of SOA formation from modern diesel and gasoline cars at different temperatures (22, -7 °C) during controlled laboratory experiments. Carbonaceous PM emission and SOA formation is markedly higher from gasoline than diesel particle filter (DPF) and catalyst-equipped diesel cars, more so at -7 °C, contrasting with nitrogen oxides (NOX). Higher SOA formation from gasoline cars and primary emission reductions for diesels implies gasoline cars will increasingly dominate vehicular total carbonaceous PM, though older non-DPF-equipped diesels will continue to dominate the primary fraction for some time. Supported by state-of-the-art source apportionment of ambient fossil fuel derived PM, our results show that whether gasoline or diesel cars are more polluting depends on the pollutant in question, i.e. that diesel cars are not necessarily worse polluters than gasoline cars.

Concepts: Gasoline, Catalytic converter, Carbon, Pollution, Air pollution, Automobile, Soot, Internal combustion engine


Biofuels are the most immediate, practical solution for mitigating dependence on fossil hydrocarbons, but current biofuels (alcohols and biodiesels) require significant downstream processing and are not fully compatible with modern, mass-market internal combustion engines. Rather, the ideal biofuels are structurally and chemically identical to the fossil fuels they seek to replace (i.e., aliphatic n- and iso-alkanes and -alkenes of various chain lengths). Here we report on production of such petroleum-replica hydrocarbons in Escherichia coli. The activity of the fatty acid (FA) reductase complex from Photorhabdus luminescens was coupled with aldehyde decarbonylase from Nostoc punctiforme to use free FAs as substrates for alkane biosynthesis. This combination of genes enabled rational alterations to hydrocarbon chain length (Cn) and the production of branched alkanes through upstream genetic and exogenous manipulations of the FA pool. Genetic components for targeted manipulation of the FA pool included expression of a thioesterase from Cinnamomum camphora (camphor) to alter alkane Cn and expression of the branched-chain α-keto acid dehydrogenase complex and β-keto acyl-acyl carrier protein synthase III from Bacillus subtilis to synthesize branched (iso-) alkanes. Rather than simply reconstituting existing metabolic routes to alkane production found in nature, these results demonstrate the ability to design and implement artificial molecular pathways for the production of renewable, industrially relevant fuel molecules.

Concepts: Fatty acid, Ethanol, Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Biofuel, Methane, Internal combustion engine


The high cost of powerful, large-stroke, high-stress artificial muscles has combined with performance limitations such as low cycle life, hysteresis, and low efficiency to restrict applications. We demonstrated that inexpensive high-strength polymer fibers used for fishing line and sewing thread can be easily transformed by twist insertion to provide fast, scalable, nonhysteretic, long-life tensile and torsional muscles. Extreme twisting produces coiled muscles that can contract by 49%, lift loads over 100 times heavier than can human muscle of the same length and weight, and generate 5.3 kilowatts of mechanical work per kilogram of muscle weight, similar to that produced by a jet engine. Woven textiles that change porosity in response to temperature and actuating window shutters that could help conserve energy were also demonstrated. Large-stroke tensile actuation was theoretically and experimentally shown to result from torsional actuation.

Concepts: Energy, Muscle, Mass, Force, Joule, Internal combustion engine, Jet engine, Twist


Rapeseed oil methyl ester (RME) and (bio)ethylene are converted into biofuel with an evenly rising boiling point curve, which fulfills the strict boiling specifications prescribed by the fuel standard EN 590 for modern (petro)diesel engines. Catalyzed by a Pd/Ru system, RME undergoes isomerizing metathesis in a stream of ethylene gas, leading to a defined olefin, monoester, and diester blend. This innovative refining concept requires negligible energy input (60°C) and no solvents and does not produce waste. It demonstrates that the pressing challenge of increasing the fraction of renewables in engine fuel may be addressed purely chemically rather than by motor engineering.

Concepts: Acetic acid, Carboxylic acid, Ester, Distillation, Methyl acetate, Internal combustion engine, Biodiesel, Banana


Despite ethanol’s penetration into urban transportation, observational evidence quantifying the consequence for the atmospheric particulate burden during actual, not hypothetical, fuel-fleet shifts, has been lacking. Here we analyze aerosol, meteorological, traffic, and consumer behavior data and find, empirically, that ambient number concentrations of 7-100-nm diameter particles rise by one-third during the morning commute when higher ethanol prices induce 2 million drivers in the real-world megacity of São Paulo to substitute to gasoline use (95% confidence intervals: +4,154 to +13,272 cm(-3)). Similarly, concentrations fall when consumers return to ethanol. Changes in larger particle concentrations, including US-regulated PM2.5, are statistically indistinguishable from zero. The prospect of increased biofuel use and mounting evidence on ultrafines' health effects make our result acutely policy relevant, to be weighed against possible ozone increases. The finding motivates further studies in real-world environments. We innovate in using econometrics to quantify a key source of urban ultrafine particles.The biofuel ethanol has been introduced into urban transportation in many countries. Here, by measuring aerosols in São Paulo, the authors find that high ethanol prices coincided with an increase in harmful nanoparticles by a third, as drivers switched from ethanol to cheaper gasoline, showing a benefit of ethanol.

Concepts: Scientific method, Gasoline, Ethanol, Particulate, Aerosol, Ethanol fuel, Diesel particulate matter, Internal combustion engine


Decarbonizing the transportation sector is critical to achieving global climate change mitigation. Although biofuels will play an important role in conventional gasoline and diesel applications, bioderived solutions are particularly important in jet fuels and lubricants, for which no other viable renewable alternatives exist. Producing compounds for jet fuel and lubricant base oil applications often requires upgrading fermentation products, such as alcohols and ketones, to reach the appropriate molecular-weight range. Ketones possess both electrophilic and nucleophilic functionality, which allows them to be used as building blocks similar to alkenes and aromatics in a petroleum refining complex. Here, we develop a method for selectively upgrading biomass-derived alkyl methyl ketones with >95% yields into trimer condensates, which can then be hydrodeoxygenated in near-quantitative yields to give a new class of cycloalkane compounds. The basic chemistry developed here can be tailored for aviation fuels as well as lubricants by changing the production strategy. We also demonstrate that a sugarcane biorefinery could use natural synergies between various routes to produce a mixture of lubricant base oils and jet fuels that achieve net life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 80%.

Concepts: Petroleum, Climate change, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Coal, Lubricant, Internal combustion engine, Fuel


Exposure to air pollution resulting from fossil fuel combustion has been linked to multiple short-term and long term health effects. In a previous study, exposure of lung epithelial cells to engine exhaust from heavy fuel oil (HFO) and diesel fuel (DF), two of the main fuels used in marine engines, led to an increased regulation of several pathways associated with adverse cellular effects, including pro-inflammatory pathways. In addition, DF exhaust exposure was shown to have a wider response on multiple cellular regulatory levels compared to HFO emissions, suggesting a potentially higher toxicity of DF emissions over HFO. In order to further understand these effects, as well as to validate these findings in another cell line, we investigated macrophages under the same conditions as a more inflammation-relevant model. An air-liquid interface aerosol exposure system was used to provide a more biologically relevant exposure system compared to submerged experiments, with cells exposed to either the complete aerosol (particle and gas phase), or the gas phase only (with particles filtered out). Data from cytotoxicity assays were integrated with metabolomics and proteomics analyses, including stable isotope-assisted metabolomics, in order to uncover pathways affected by combustion aerosol exposure in macrophages. Through this approach, we determined differing phenotypic effects associated with the different components of aerosol. The particle phase of diluted combustion aerosols was found to induce increased cell death in macrophages, while the gas phase was found more to affect the metabolic profile. In particular, a higher cytotoxicity of DF aerosol emission was observed in relation to the HFO aerosol. Furthermore, macrophage exposure to the gas phase of HFO leads to an induction of a pro-inflammatory metabolic and proteomic phenotype. These results validate the effects found in lung epithelial cells, confirming the role of inflammation and cellular stress in the response to combustion aerosols.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Petroleum, Proteomics, Fossil fuel, Internal combustion engine, Fuel, Diesel fuel, Fuel oil


Meeting global climate change mitigation goals will likely require that transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions begin to decline within the next two decades and then continue to fall. A variety of vehicle technologies and fuels are commercially available to consumers today that can reduce the emissions of the transportation sector. Yet what are the best options, and do any suffice to meet climate policy targets? Here, we examine the costs and carbon intensities of 125 light-duty vehicle models on the U.S. market today and evaluate these models against U.S. emission-reduction targets for 2030, 2040, and 2050 that are compatible with the goal of limiting mean global temperature rise to 2 °C above preindustrial levels. Our results show that consumers are not required to pay more for a low-carbon-emitting vehicle. Across the diverse set of vehicle models and powertrain technologies examined, a clean vehicle is usually a low-cost vehicle. Although the average carbon intensity of vehicles sold in 2014 exceeds the climate target for 2030 by more than 50%, we find that most hybrid and battery electric vehicles available today meet this target. By 2050, only electric vehicles supplied with almost completely carbon-free electric power are expected to meet climate-policy targets.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Greenhouse gas, Global warming, Automobile, Internal combustion engine, Electric vehicle


The use of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS; also known as “drones”) for professional and personal-leisure use is increasing enormously. UAS operate at low altitudes (<500 m) and in any terrain, thus they are susceptible to interact with local fauna, generating a new type of anthropogenic disturbance that has not been systematically evaluated. To address this gap, we performed a review of the existent literature about animals' responses to UAS flights and conducted a pooled analysis of the data to determine the probability and intensity of the disturbance, and to identify the factors influencing animals' reactions towards the small aircraft. We found that wildlife reactions depended on both the UAS attributes (flight pattern, engine type and size of aircraft) and the characteristics of animals themselves (type of animal, life-history stage and level of aggregation). Target-oriented flight patterns, larger UAS sizes, and fuel-powered (noisier) engines evoked the strongest reactions in wildlife. Animals during the non-breeding period and in large groups were more likely to show behavioral reactions to UAS, and birds are more prone to react than other taxa. We discuss the implications of these results in the context of wildlife disturbance and suggest guidelines for conservationists, users and manufacturers to minimize the impact of UAS. In addition, we propose that the legal framework needs to be adapted so that appropriate actions can be undertaken when wildlife is negatively affected by these emergent practices.

Concepts: Animal, Flight, Fixed-wing aircraft, Internal combustion engine, Aircraft, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Helicopter, Unmanned Aircraft System


The ingestion of volcanic ash by jet engines is widely recognized as a potentially fatal hazard for aircraft operation. The high temperatures (1,200-2,000 °C) typical of jet engines exacerbate the impact of ash by provoking its melting and sticking to turbine parts. Estimation of this potential hazard is complicated by the fact that chemical composition, which affects the temperature at which volcanic ash becomes liquid, can vary widely amongst volcanoes. Here, based on experiments, we parameterize ash behaviour and develop a model to predict melting and sticking conditions for its global compositional range. The results of our experiments confirm that the common use of sand or dust proxy is wholly inadequate for the prediction of the behaviour of volcanic ash, leading to overestimates of sticking temperature and thus severe underestimates of the thermal hazard. Our model can be used to assess the deposition probability of volcanic ash in jet engines.

Concepts: Energy, Temperature, Liquid, Volcano, Internal combustion engine, Gas compressor, Jet engine, Turbine