Industrial natural gas engines are used in a wide range of applications, each with unique requirements in terms of power density, initial cost, thermal efficiency, and other factors. As a result of these requirements, distinct engine designs have evolved to serve various applications. Heavy-duty spark-ignited engines can generally be divided into two broad categories based on their charge characteristics and method of emissions control.

Stoichiometric engines are widely used in applications where first cost, absolute emissions and relative engine simplicity are more important than fuel consumption. In most of the developed world, stoichiometric engines are equipped with a three-way catalyst to control emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) as well as products of incomplete combustion and raw unburned fuel.

Dilution of the charge mixture with excess air reduces the peak combustion gas temperature and associated heat rejection. As a result, lean burn engines are generally able to achieve higher efficiency and power density without inducing excessive component temperatures or end gas knock. NOx formation is mitigated by the reduced gas temperatures, such that most regulatory standards can currently be met in-cylinder. Significant obstacles exist to meeting more stringent future emissions regulations in this manner, however.

Another possible strategy is to dilute the charge mixture with recirculated exhaust gas. This offers similar benefits as air dilution while maintaining the ability to use a three-way catalyst for emissions after-treatment. While similar principles apply in either case, the choice of diluent can have a significant impact on knock resistance, emissions formation, thermal efficiency, and other parameters of importance to engine developers and operators.

This work aimed to examine the unique characteristics of EGR and air dilution from a thermodynamic and combustion perspective. A combination of cycle simulation tools and experimental data from a single-cylinder test engine was applied to demonstrate the impact of diluent properties on a fundamental level, and to illustrate departures from idealized behavior and practical considerations specific to the development of combustion systems for spark-ignited natural gas engines.

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