An experimental study was undertaken to study exhaust emission from a lean-burn natural gas spark ignition engine. The possibility that such an engine may help to reduce exhaust emissions substantially by taking advantage of natural gas fuel properties, such as its antiknock properties and extended lean flammability limit compared to gasoline, was the main motivation behind the investigation. A four cylinder, automotive type spark ignition engine was used in the investigation. The engine was converted to operate on natural gas by replacing its fuel system with a gaseous carburetion system. A 3-way metal metrix catalytic converter was used in the engine exhaust system to reduce emission levels.
The engine operated satisfactorily at an equivalence ratio as lean as 0.6, at all speeds and loads. As a result NOx emissions were significantly reduced. However, hydrocarbon emissions were high, particularly at very lean conditions and light loads. Most of these hydrocarbons were made up of methane with small concentrations of ethane and propane. Coefficient of variations in hydrocarbons were generally high at very lean operating conditions and light loads, but decreased with increasing equivalence ratio and engine speed. Methane concentrations in the engine exhaust decreased with increasing load and equivalence ratio. At lean air-to-fuel ratios and light loads oxidation of methane in the catalyst was substantially limited and no NOx reduction was achieved. In addition, the proportion of nitric oxide in oxides of nitrogen increased with increasing amount of NOx in the engine exhaust. A major problem encountered in the study was the inability of the fuel system to maintain near constant air-to-fuel ratios at steady operating conditions.