There are dozens of credible companies rolling out next generation cars. From the GM Volt, now barely two years away, to the start-up Tesla Roadster, the list of companies aspiring to deliver the next generation car is growing almost as fast as the denizens of newly minted green journalists rushing to cover their progress. But what about the components?
Three interesting companies provide a encouraging glimpse into progress occurring upstream of the finished vehicle, all of them working on ways to dramatically improve the performance of the internal combustion engine.
In Camarillo, California, Transonic Combustion is developing an engine that can allow “operating conventional reciprocating piston gasoline engines at ultra-high compression ratios.” Through a combination of innovations; advanced combustion chamber geometries, advanced thermal management, precise ignition timing, “revolutionary” thermal management and electronic valves, Transonic is designing an engine that will deliver extremely high fuel efficiencies. Also significant, if they are successful, will be the ability of their engine to operate on fuel blends, including biofuels, at efficiencies superior to what they deliver when fueling conventional engines.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, the automotive capital of America, EcoMotors International is developing an engine that also aspires to deliver extremely high fuel efficiency. On their website’s home page, EcoMotors has a fascinating animation that shows their engine in action. In this design, the engine cylinders lie horizontally, and each cylinder essentially has two pistons, one moving backwards and one moving fowards. These horizontal cylinders are constructed in pairs, so that when one of them is in an expansion stroke, the other one is in a compression stroke. The crankshaft is placed between the cylinders, and four sets of connecting rods turn the engine, one from the back of each piston, and one from the side of each piston that faces the crankshaft. Because every motion generated by the power stroke inside these cylinders is offset by a countermotion in this perfectly symmetrical design, far more of the power generated by the fuel combustion is passed on to the crankshaft, and far less material is necessary to construct the engine block. EcoMotors is a very interesting company.
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|The Zajac engine – using conventional pistons
with an external combustion chamber.
Returning to California, this time to San Jose, Zajac Motors is pioneering what is perhaps the most interesting twist yet on the internal combustion engine, if they can pull it off. The Zajac engine has removed the combustion chamber from the cylinders altogether, relying on an external chamber to burn the fuel, then through a complex set of electronic valves, releasing the gas into cylinders dedicated to the expansion stroke, and oxygenating the external chamber with a set of smaller valves that are dedicated to providing the compression stroke. If the Zajac engine works, it will also provide a leapfrog improvement to fuel efficiency, at the same time as the use of an external combustion chamber will allow far cleaner burning.
The automotive world is being transformed today at a pace not seen since the dawn of personal transportation over 100 years ago.