Fuel efficiency is a form of thermal efficiency, meaning the efficiency of a process that converts chemical potential energy contained in a carrier fuel into kinetic energy or work. Overall fuel efficiency may vary per device, which in turn may vary per application fuel efficiency, especially fossil fuel power plants or industries dealing with combustion, such as ammonia production during the Haber process.
- Vehicle design
- Fleet efficiency
- Energy efficiency terminology
- Energy content of fuel
- Fuel efficiency of motor vehicles
- Fuel efficiency in microgravity
- Vehicle efficiency and transportation pollution
- Driving technique
- Advanced technology improvements to improve fuel efficiency
In the context of transport, fuel economy is the energy efficiency of a particular vehicle, given as a ratio of distance traveled per unit of fuel consumed. It is dependent on engine efficiency, transmission design, and tire design. Fuel economy is expressed in miles per gallon (mpg) in the USA and usually also in the UK (imperial gallon); there is sometimes confusion as the imperial gallon is 20% larger than the US gallon so that mpg values are not directly comparable. In countries using the metric system fuel economy is stated as "fuel consumption" in liters per 100 kilometers (L/100 km). Litres per mil are used in Norway and Sweden.
Fuel consumption is a more accurate measure of a vehicle’s performance because it is a linear relationship while fuel economy leads to distortions in efficiency improvements.
Weight-specific efficiency (efficiency per unit weight) may be stated for freight, and passenger-specific efficiency (vehicle efficiency per passenger).
Fuel efficiency is dependent on many parameters of a vehicle, including its engine parameters, aerodynamic drag, weight, and rolling resistance. There have been advances in all areas of vehicle design in recent decades.
Hybrid vehicles use two or more power sources for propulsion. In many designs, a small combustion engine is combined with electric motors. Kinetic energy which would otherwise be lost to heat during braking is recaptured as electrical power to improve fuel efficiency. Engines automatically shut off when vehicles come to a stop and start again when the accelerator is pressed preventing wasted energy from idling.
Fleet efficiency describes the average efficiency of a population of vehicles. Technological advances in efficiency may be offset by a change in buying habits with a propensity to heavier vehicles, which are less efficient, all else being equal.
Energy efficiency terminology
Energy efficiency is similar to fuel efficiency but the input is usually in units of energy such as British thermal units (BTU), megajoules (MJ), gigajoules (GJ), kilocalories (kcal), or kilowatt-hours (kW·h). The inverse of "energy efficiency" is "energy intensity", or the amount of input energy required for a unit of output such as MJ/passenger-km (of passenger transport), BTU/ton-mile or kJ/t-km (of freight transport), GJ/t (for production of steel and other materials), BTU/(kW·h) (for electricity generation), or litres/100 km (of vehicle travel). Litres per 100 km is also a measure of "energy intensity" where the input is measured by the amount of fuel and the output is measured by the distance travelled. For example: Fuel economy in automobiles.
Given a heat value of a fuel, it would be trivial to convert from fuel units (such as litres of gasoline) to energy units (such as MJ) and conversely. But there are two problems with comparisons made using energy units:
Energy content of fuel
The specific energy content of a fuel is the heat energy obtained when a certain quantity is burned (such as a gallon, litre, kilogram). It is sometimes called the heat of combustion. There exists two different values of specific heat energy for the same batch of fuel. One is the high (or gross) heat of combustion and the other is the low (or net) heat of combustion. The high value is obtained when, after the combustion, the water in the exhaust is in liquid form. For the low value, the exhaust has all the water in vapor form (steam). Since water vapor gives up heat energy when it changes from vapor to liquid, the liquid water value is larger since it includes the latent heat of vaporization of water. The difference between the high and low values is significant, about 8 or 9%. This accounts for most of the apparent discrepancy in the heat value of gasoline. In the U.S. (and the table) the high heat values have traditionally been used, but in many other countries, the low heat values are commonly used.
Neither the gross heat of combustion nor the net heat of combustion gives the theoretical amount of mechanical energy (work) that can be obtained from the reaction. (This is given by the change in Gibbs free energy, and is around 45.7 MJ/kg for gasoline.) The actual amount of mechanical work obtained from fuel (the inverse of the specific fuel consumption) depends on the engine. A figure of 17.6 MJ/kg is possible with a gasoline engine, and 19.1 MJ/kg for a diesel engine. See Brake specific fuel consumption for more information.
Fuel efficiency of motor vehicles
The fuel efficiency of motor vehicles can be expressed in more ways:
Converting from mpg or to L/100 km (or vice versa) involves the use of the reciprocal function, which is not distributive. Therefore, the average of two fuel economy numbers gives different values if those units are used, because one of the functions is reciprocal, thus not linear. If two people calculate the fuel economy average of two groups of cars with different units, the group with better fuel economy may be one or the other. However, from the point of energy used as a shared method of measure, the result shall be the same in both the cases.
The formula for converting to miles per US gallon (exactly 3.785411784 L) from L/100 km is
In parts of Europe, the two standard measuring cycles for "litre/100 km" value are "urban" traffic with speeds up to 50 km/h from a cold start, and then "extra urban" travel at various speeds up to 120 km/h which follows the urban test. A combined figure is also quoted showing the total fuel consumed in divided by the total distance traveled in both tests. A reasonably modern European supermini and many mid-size cars, including station wagons, may manage motorway travel at 5 L/100 km (47 mpg US/56 mpg imp) or 6.5 L/100 km in city traffic (36 mpg US/43 mpg imp), with carbon dioxide emissions of around 140 g/km.
An average North American mid-size car travels 21 mpg (US) (11 L/100 km) city, 27 mpg (US) (9 L/100 km) highway; a full-size SUV usually travels 13 mpg (US) (18 L/100 km) city and 16 mpg (US) (15 L/100 km) highway. Pickup trucks vary considerably; whereas a 4 cylinder-engined light pickup can achieve 28 mpg (8 L/100 km), a V8 full-size pickup with extended cabin only travels 13 mpg (US) (18 L/100 km) city and 15 mpg (US) (15 L/100 km) highway.
The average fuel economy is higher in Europe due to the higher cost of fuel. In the UK, a gallon of gas without tax would cost US$1.97, but with taxes cost US$6.06 in 2005. The average cost in the United States was US$2.61. Consumers prefer "muscle cars" but choose more fuel efficient ones when gas prices increase.
European-built cars are generally more fuel-efficient than US vehicles. While Europe has many higher efficiency diesel cars, European gasoline vehicles are on average also more efficient than gasoline-powered vehicles in the USA. Most European vehicles cited in the CSI study run on diesel engines, which tend to achieve greater fuel efficiency than gas engines. Selling those cars in the United States is difficult because of emission standards, notes Walter McManus, a fuel economy expert at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. "For the most part, European diesels don’t meet U.S. emission standards", McManus said in 2007. Another reason why many European models are not marketed in the United States is that labor unions object to having the big 3 import any new foreign built models regardless of fuel economy while laying off workers at home.
An example of European cars' capabilities of fuel economy is the microcar Smart Fortwo cdi, which can achieve up to 3.4 l/100 km (69.2 mpg US) using a turbocharged three-cylinder 41 bhp (30 kW) Diesel engine. The Fortwo is produced by Daimler AG and is currently only sold by one company in the United States. Furthermore, the current (and to date already 10-year-old) world record in fuel economy of production cars is held by the Volkswagen Group, with special production models (labeled "3L") of the Volkswagen Lupo and the Audi A2, consuming as little as 3 L/100 km (94 mpg‑imp; 78 mpg‑US).
Diesel engines generally achieve greater fuel efficiency than petrol (gasoline) engines. Passenger car diesel engines have energy efficiency of up to 41% but more typically 30%, and petrol engines of up to 37.3%, but more typically 20%. That is one of the reasons why diesels have better fuel efficiency than equivalent petrol cars. A common margin is 25% more miles per gallon for an efficient turbodiesel.
For example, the current model Skoda Octavia, using Volkswagen engines, has a combined European fuel efficiency of 41.3 mpg for the 105 bhp (78 kW) petrol engine and 52.3 mpg for the 105 bhp (78 kW) — and heavier — diesel engine. The higher compression ratio is helpful in raising the energy efficiency, but diesel fuel also contains approximately 10% more energy per unit volume than gasoline which contributes to the reduced fuel consumption for a given power output.
In 2002, the United States had 85,174,776 trucks, and averaged 13.5 miles per US gallon (17.4 L/100 km; 16.2 mpg‑imp). Large trucks, over 33,000 pounds (15,000 kg), averaged 5.7 miles per US gallon (41 L/100 km; 6.8 mpg‑imp).
The average economy of automobiles in the United States in 2002 was 22.0 miles per US gallon (10.7 L/100 km; 26.4 mpg‑imp). By 2010 this had increased to 23.0 miles per US gallon (10.2 L/100 km; 27.6 mpg‑imp). Average fuel economy in the United States gradually declined until 1973, when it reached a low of 13.4 miles per US gallon (17.6 L/100 km; 16.1 mpg‑imp) and gradually has increased since, as a result of higher fuel cost. A study indicates that a 10% increase in gas prices will eventually produce a 2.04% increase in fuel economy. One method by car makers to increase fuel efficiency is lightweighting in which lighter-weight materials are substituted in for improved engine performance and handling.
Fuel efficiency in microgravity
How fuel combusts affects how much energy is produced. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has investigated fuel consumption in microgravity.
The common distribution of a flame under normal gravity conditions depends on convection, because soot tends to rise to the top of a flame, such as in a candle, making the flame yellow. In microgravity or zero gravity, such as an environment in outer space, convection no longer occurs, and the flame becomes spherical, with a tendency to become more blue and more efficient. There are several possible explanations for this difference, of which the most likely one given is the hypothesis that the temperature is evenly distributed enough that soot is not formed and complete combustion occurs., National Aeronautics and Space Administration, April 2005. Experiments by NASA in microgravity reveal that diffusion flames in microgravity allow more soot to be completely oxidised after they are produced than diffusion flames on Earth, because of a series of mechanisms that behaved differently in microgravity when compared to normal gravity conditions.LSP-1 experiment results, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, April 2005. Premixed flames in microgravity burn at a much slower rate and more efficiently than even a candle on Earth, and last much longer.
Vehicle efficiency and transportation pollution
Fuel efficiency directly affects emissions causing pollution by affecting the amount of fuel used. However, it also depends on the fuel source used to drive the vehicle concerned. Cars for example, can run on a number of fuel types other than gasoline, such as natural gas, LPG or biofuel or electricity which creates various quantities of atmospheric pollution.
A kilogram of carbon, whether contained in petrol, diesel, kerosene, or any other hydrocarbon fuel in a vehicle, leads to approximately 3.6 kg of CO2 emissions. Due to the carbon content of gasoline, its combustion emits 2.3 kg/l (19.4 lb/US gal) of CO2; since diesel fuel is more energy dense per unit volume, diesel emits 2.6 kg/l (22.2 lb/US gal). This figure is only the CO2 emissions of the final fuel product and does not include additional CO2 emissions created during the drilling, pumping, transportation and refining steps required to produce the fuel. Additional measures to reduce overall emission includes improvements to the efficiency of air conditioners, lights and tires.
Many drivers have the potential to improve their fuel efficiency significantly. These five basic fuel-efficient driving techniques can be effective. Simple things such as keeping tires properly inflated, having a vehicle well-maintained and avoiding idling can dramatically improve fuel efficiency.
There is a growing community of enthusiasts known as hypermilers who develop and practice driving techniques to increase fuel efficiency and reduce consumption. Hypermilers have broken records of fuel efficiency, for example, achieving 109 miles per gallon in a Prius. In non-hybrid vehicles these techniques are also beneficial, with fuel efficiencies of up to 59 MPG in a Honda Accord or 30 MPG in an Acura MDX.
Advanced technology improvements to improve fuel efficiency
The most efficient machines for converting energy to rotary motion are electric motors, as used in electric vehicles. However, electricity is not a primary energy source so the efficiency of the electricity production has also to be taken into account. Currently railway trains can be powered using electricity, delivered through an additional running rail, overhead catenary system or by on-board generators used in diesel-electric locomotives as common on the US and UK rail networks. Pollution produced from centralised generation of electricity is emitted at a distant power station, rather than "on site". Pollution can be reduced by using more railway electrification and low carbon power for electricity. Some railways, such as the French SNCF and Swiss federal railways derive most, if not 100% of their power, from hydroelectric or nuclear power stations, therefore atmospheric pollution from their rail networks is very low. This was reflected in a study by AEA Technology between a Eurostar train and airline journeys between London and Paris, which showed the trains on average emitting 10 times less CO2, per passenger, than planes, helped in part by French nuclear generation.
In the future, hydrogen cars may be commercially available. Toyota is test marketing hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles in southern California where a series of hydrogen fueling stations has been established. Powered either through chemical reactions in a fuel cell that create electricity to drive very efficient electrical motors or by directly burning hydrogen in a combustion engine (near identically to a natural gas vehicle, and similarly compatible with both natural gas and gasoline); these vehicles promise to have near-zero pollution from the tailpipe (exhaust pipe). Potentially the atmospheric pollution could be minimal, provided the hydrogen is made by electrolysis using electricity from non-polluting sources such as solar, wind or hydroelectricity or nuclear. Commercial hydrogen production uses fossil fuels and produces more carbon dioxide than hydrogen.
Because there are pollutants involved in the manufacture and destruction of a car and the production, transmission and storage of electricity and hydrogen, the use of the label "zero pollution" should be understood as applying only to the car's conversion of stored energy into transportation.
In 2004, a consortium of major auto-makers — BMW, General Motors, Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen/Audi — came up with "Top Tier Detergent Gasoline Standard" to gasoline brands in the US and Canada that meet their minimum standards for detergent content and do not contain metallic additives. Top Tier gasoline contains higher levels of detergent additives in order to prevent the build-up of deposits (typically, on fuel injector and intake valve) known to reduce fuel economy and engine performance.