Low natural gas prices have made the fuel an attractive alternative to diesel and other common fuels, particularly in applications that consume large quantities of fuel. The North American rail industry is examining the use of locomotives powered by dual fuel engines to realize savings in fuel costs. These dual fuel engines can substitute a large portion of the diesel fuel with natural gas that is premixed with the intake air. Engine knock in traditional premixed spark-ignited combustion is undesirable but well characterized by the Methane Number index, which quantifies the propensity of a gaseous fuel to autoignite after a period of time at high temperature. Originally developed for spark-ignited engines, the ability of the methane number index to predict a fuel’s “knock” behavior in dual fuel combustion is not as fully understood. The objective of this effort is to evaluate the ability of an existing methane number algorithm to predict rapid combustion in a dual fuel engine.
Sets of specialized natural gas fuel blends that, according to the MWM methane number algorithm, should have similar knock characteristics are tested in a dual fuel engine and induced to experience rapid combustion. Test results and CFD analysis reveal that rapid or aggressive combustion rates happen late in the dual fuel combustion event with this engine hardware configuration. The transition from normal combustion to late rapid combustion is characterized by changes in the heat release rate profiles. In this study, the transition is also represented by a shift in the crank angle location of the combustion’s peak heat release rate. For fuels of similar methane number that should exhibit similar knock behavior, these transitions occur at significantly different relative air-fuel ratios, demonstrating that the existing MWM methane number algorithm, while excellent for spark-ignited engines, does not fully predict the propensity for rapid combustion to occur in a dual fuel engine within the scope of this study. This indicates that physical and chemical phenomena present in rapid or aggressive dual fuel combustion processes may differ from those in knocking spark-ignited combustion. In its current form a methane number algorithm can be used to conservatively rate dual fuel engines. It is possible that derivation of a new reactivity index that better predicts rapid combustion behavior of the gaseous fuel in dual fuel combustion would allow ratings to be less conservative.