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Less-polluting cars

The R&D Center of the PSA Group in Brazil works to improve ethanol engines and develop parts made with recyclable materials

Peugeot researchers: from the left, Marcelo Airoldi, Franck Turkovics, Renata Pradelle and Rafael Serralvo Neto

Léo Ramos Peugeot researchers: from the left, Marcelo Airoldi, Franck Turkovics, Renata Pradelle and Rafael Serralvo NetoLéo Ramos

The principal focus of the Research and Development (R&D) department at the PSA Group in Brazil is to improve research on automotive engines adapted or designed for better use of ethanol and to study in detail how to produce biofuel in an environmentally sustainable way.  The French conglomerate manufactures the Peugeot, Citroën and DS lines and entered the Brazilian market in 1992. With a factory in the city of Porto Real, Rio de Janeiro State, the company has one of its six worldwide R&D centers in Brazil — with facilities there and in Argentina — called the Latin American Tech Center. The center collaborates closely with similar centers in France and China. A sixth laboratory, to be located in Morocco, is scheduled to open in 2016.

“Within the PSA Group, we were the first to undertake biofuel research and we are a global reference on the study of ethanol engines and the development of sustainable materials for manufacturing automotive parts and components,” says mechanical engineer Franck Turkovics, the executive responsible for Powertrain and Biofuel Innovation in Brazil.  “With respect to engines, one of our main objectives is to reduce CO2 emissions,” states Turkovics. His twenty-five years with the company, including 10 in Brazil, were preceded by an undergraduate degree in mechanical and thermal engineering, and a graduate certificate from the IFP School in France. He was responsible for assembling the company’ team of researchers in Brazil to study biofuel innovations in 2011.

In order to provide a stimulus for research in this field, the PSA Group and FAPESP signed a cooperation agreement in late 2014 with four Brazilian universities to found the Professor Urbano Ernesto Stumpf Engineering Research Center.  Among the topics investigated by researchers at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), the University of São Paulo (USP), the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA) in São José dos Campos, and the Mauá Institute of Technology (IMT) in São Caetano do Sul, all in São Paulo State, are new engine configurations, a decrease in consumption, a reduction in gas emission and its impacts, and economic and environmental feasibility. “We are the first multi-institution research center established by FAPESP in this format. Working with important educational institutions further enriches and enhances our know-how and allows us to evolve,” says Turkovics.

R&D center
São Paulo, SP, and Porto Real, RJ
Nº of employees
Principal products
Biofuel engines and vehicles

“The idea of the center is that researchers from the four institutions work on joint studies in their specialties,” explains Waldyr Gallo, a professor at the Unicamp School of Mechanical Engineering and coordinator of the Research Center.  “We want to take advantage of and advance research that each of the partners is already carrying out on different aspects of engine technology in order to drive the development of ethanol engines.” The investment in the project — totaling R$16 million over four years, renewable for another six — is divided equally among the PSA Group and FAPESP, plus the equivalent contributions made by the institutions where the research is carried out, when university and institute equipment and researcher and technician salaries are included.

“At the PSA Group, we formed a team with three researchers plus me to undertake this project,” says Turkovics.  According to him, the group’s ultimate objective is not to develop an ethanol engine, but rather optimize existing engines so that they are more energy efficient and emit fewer polluting gases. “We noticed that there was a gap in research in Brazil focused on improving ethanol engines. It is important to remember that today’s ethanol engines were originally designed to run on gasoline.”

Biofuel research will also help the PSA Group meet the goals related to automotive engine pollutant emissions contained in the Incentive Program for Technological Innovation and Consolidation of the Automotive Manufacturing Chain.  Better known as Inovar-Auto, this program was launched by the federal government in 2012, and its objective is to increase competitiveness in the Brazilian automotive industry through the manufacture of more economical, safe vehicles. Inovar-Auto provides a discount of 1% in the Manufacturing Tax (IPI) if the company manufactures vehicles that consume 15.46% less fuel, beginning in 2017. If consumption decreases 18.84%, the discount will be 2% of the IPI. “The prospect of this change reinforced the need to undertake research on ethanol engines in Brazil,” says Turkovics. He points out that the research is monitored by an international committee of scientists from the Institute of Science and Technology (ParisTech) in France, the Turin Polytechnic Institute in Italy, the Darmstadt Technical Universities in Germany, and Cambridge University and University College London, both in the UK.

Computational analysis of the ethanol combustion test

Léo RamosComputational analysis of the ethanol combustion testLéo Ramos

Knowledge network
Responsible for coordinating the project within the PSA Group, mechanical engineer Rafael Serralvo Neto, 36, notes that Brazil is the only country with vehicles that run on pure ethanol, known as E100.  “The closest is the United States, which sells a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. In France, some engines have been designed to use E20, a fuel containing 20% ethanol,” he says. “100% ethanol engines are manufactured only in Brazil and, for this reason, we are a global reference for this technology. We are interested in leading biofuel research.”

On the role of each institution in the project, Serralvo explains that ITA is responsible for studying combustion.  “They have an engine that will let us see the smallest details of the combustion process using fiber optics. This type of resource is already used in Europe. The ITA laboratory, coordinated by professor Pedro Teixeira Lacava, is one of the few in Brazil that possess this equipment,” he says. At the Mauá Institute they carry out tests on the engine being developed by the group, coordinated by professors Celso Argachoy and Clayton Barcelos Zabeu. USP processes spray visualization studies. The fuel is injected into the engine’s combustion chamber in the form of a spray of particles. “The way in which the fuel is injected into the chamber makes the engine more or less efficient,” explains mechanical engineer Marcelo Laurentys Airoldi, 30, a specialist in combustion and one of the members of Turkovics’ team. He explains that five types of fuel will be tested: anhydrous (E100 with less than 1% water), hydrous (E100 with about 4% water), E85, E50, and ethanol with a high concentration of water.

“The type of ethanol is directly related to engine performance,” says Airoldi.  Finally, at Unicamp, tests are performed with an experimental engine with a variable air-compression ratio. “For alcohol, it is best that the ratio be higher than that for gasoline. The higher the ratio, the better the thermal performance and efficiency of the engine. However, an excessively high ratio can lead to engine degradation,” explains Airoldi. Unicamp studies are carried out by professors Waldyr Gallo, Marco Lucio Bittencourt and Janito Vaqueiro Ferreira, all at the School of Mechanical Engineering.

Studies and tests of materials for engines carried out in the PSA Group Materials Laboratory in Porto Real (RJ)

PeugeotStudies and tests of materials for engines carried out in the PSA Group Materials Laboratory in Porto Real (RJ)Peugeot

The fourth member of the research team coordinated by Turkovics is chemical engineer Renata Nohra Chaar Pradelle, 27, responsible for issues related to fuels, such as analyses for quality control, definition of and research on special fuels for group projects and research on new sources of biofuels.  “Most projects are confidential, but information on those arising from an agreement with the Rio de Janeiro Research Foundation (FAPERJ) to support the development of flex engines — which run on both gasoline and ethanol — can be disclosed,” she says.

The second largest automaker in Europe, the PSA Group sold 3 million vehicles worldwide in 2015 and had sales of €54 billion (about $59 billion).  In Brazil, the conglomerate sold 58,000 vehicles during the same period. The team of researchers studying biofuels and ethanol engines works in the São Paulo Tech Center, in the city of São Paulo, one of the three branches of the Latin American Tech Center — the other two are located in the Brazilian Industrial Pole in Porto Real, Rio de Janeiro State, and the Palomar Manufacturing Center in Buenos Aires. These centers act in an integrated way and house approximately 700 staff members, with about 500 in Brazil. A quarter of these employees have graduate degrees.

Worldwide, the PSA Group has 12,000 employees working on R&D activities.  In 2015 the budget for this was €1.8 billion (about $2 billion). The company does not disclose the amount allocated to R&D in Brazil. In France, in 2015, the PSA Group led the Brazilian Industrial Property Institute (INPI) ranking for the ninth consecutive year, with 1,012 patents filed. One innovation that has come out of the Latin American Tech Center is a flexfuel engine for mass production without a small gasoline tank for starting on cold days, called the FlexStart EC5. Two others are the Zenith windshield of the new Citroën C3, whose innovative format provides the driver with greater visibility, and the Cielo sunroof of the Peugeot 208 and 308.

Laser analysis of the flame in fuel injection system performed at USP

PeugeotLaser analysis of the flame in fuel injection system performed at USPPeugeot

Green efficiency
In 2015, the Latin American R&D division participated in the release of four new car models: the Peugeot 2008, and the new versions of the Citroën Aircross and the Peugeot 308 and 408.  In its second generation, the Citroën Aircross was developed and released exclusively in the region. “The new Citroën Aircross is an example of the efficiency of researchers working in R&D units in Brazil and Argentina, able to work on all stages of development of a new vehicle, from its first conceptual drawings to the final production process,” says François Sigot, director of Development, Style, Manufacturing and Supply Chain for the PSA Group in Latin America. “All the work of developing our products and new materials is shared among Latin American countries and the other PSA Group Tech Centers worldwide.”

The Brazilian Tech Center facilities include several research laboratories.  The most important are the Green Materials Laboratory and the newly opened Vehicular Emissions Laboratory, both at the factory in Porto Real, in addition to the Latin American Style Workshop and a computational screening room, located in São Paulo, which projects high-resolution, full-scale 3D images of vehicles under development. The laboratory has equipment for performing pollutant emission level tests for vehicles manufactured in Porto Real. These tests are performed both in the vehicle development stages and as part of approval testing required by regulators. These tests indicate that the gases emitted are within the limits permitted by Brazilian legislation.

Tests performed on a Peugeot vehicle in the Vehicular Emissions Laboratory in Porto Real (RJ)

PeugeotTests performed on a Peugeot vehicle in the Vehicular Emissions Laboratory in Porto Real (RJ)Peugeot

In the Green Materials Laboratory — another area in which Brazilian R&D stands out worldwide — researchers study alternatives that would reduce the use of petroleum-based plastics and increase the use of renewable raw materials, such as natural fibers, non-metallic recycled materials and biomaterials.  In addition to reducing CO2 emission from the fossil-fuel-based plastic production chain, green materials reduce the weight of some automotive parts.

“The PSA Group plans to increasingly integrate more green materials into its new projects.  This objective also applies to existing vehicles, which should add them during the evolution of each model series. Researchers in the green materials laboratory work closely with suppliers to select new products to be used,” says Sigot. The Citroen C3, for example, contains 39 kilograms of green material in its total weight. One example is the trunk carpets made with waste from the textile industry, such as natural fibers and cotton felt.

According to Sigot, the auto maker’s vehicles also leave the factory with other components made from recycled materials, such as the roof lining, made from PET (plastic material used in disposable bottles), the mudguards, made of recycled polypropylene (a type of plastic), and the lateral lining of the trunk, made from PET, polypropylene and natural fibers.


Conceptual study of an advanced ethanol-fueled engine (nº 2013/50238-3); Grant Mechanism Bioenergy Research (Bioen), Research Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE); Principal Investigator Waldyr Luiz Ribeiro Gallo (Unicamp); Investment R$ 3,983,973.53 (FAPESP) and R$3,983,973.53 (PSA Group).