By the middle of this decade, some cars and trucks may carry their own oil refinery as standard equipment. Although the miniature distillery won't realize science fiction's dream of converting garbage into gasoline, it may provide a way to significantly reduce the hydrocarbon emissions in exhaust from internal combustion engines.
Gasoline is a mixture of liquid hydrocarbons that have a variety of boiling points. Only the most volatile components of gasoline vaporize and burn when a cold engine first turns over, says Ronald D. Matthews, a mechanical engineer at the University of Texas in Austin and a codeveloper of the new system. The rest of the fuel forms a puddle in the engine's intake manifold and then, as the engine warms, gradually evaporates and goes out the exhaust pipe.