Car Engine Undergoes Innovational Transformation

To keep the global warming under check and for making the cars fuel-efficient and green, perhaps the maximum contribution can come through innovations in power train or engine. Engine being mechanical unit with many parts with combustion chambers as the nerve centers, a combination of mechanical features, close tolerances, surface finishes, and better materials can make the difference. However, the use of electronics and computerized control can further improve the fuel efficiency as well as emission.

On one hand the trend seems to turn to electric or hybrid cars with some trying to convert the hybrid with plug-in capability. However, the innovation works in old technologies are also fighting back. So new hybrid systems, fuel cells and electric motors will be chasing a moving target. The internal combustion engine will be getting better too. Some recent improvements are as follows:

1.Supercharger forces more air into the combustion chambers of engine. A new dual-speed supercharger provides its highest boost at low speeds, and thus gives the car a huge 40% increase in torque, or pulling power. The supercharger developed by Antonov Automotive Technologies, a British company, is purely mechanical and uses planetary gears to change speed. As claimed, it could be used to reduce the size of a car’s engine by up to 50%-so it would use less fuel and produce fewer CO2 emissions, but still provide good performance.

2.Fuel injectors can metre fuel more precisely than carburettors, and variable-valve control can optimise the opening and closing of inlet and exhaust valves to produce more power when accelerating or greater economy when dawdling around town. The same systems are also used in some big and thirsty engines to shut down a few cylinders when driving slowly.

3.The e-Valve system is new development made by Valeo, a French automotive supplier. It uses electromagnetic controls to open and shut valves instead of pushrods operated by a camshaft. As each valve can be operated independent of any other, all sorts of tricks become possible, including shutting down cylinders and switching temporarily from the traditional four-stroke Otto cycle (as developed by Nicolaus Otto, a German engineer in 1876) to a type of Atkinson cycle (an ultra-lean system invented as a rival in 1882 by James Atkinson, a British engineer, but which suffered from a lack of power). As Valeo reckons, on average their e-Valve system can cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in a car by up to 20%. It could also be used to make three- and two-cylinder engines that run efficiently and smoothly.

4.Fiat’s new valve-control system, Multiair, uses hydraulics and electronics to optimise valve settings. When combined with a turbocharger (a supercharger driven by exhaust gases). The system can produce a “downsized” two-cylinder engine that can perform like a bigger four-cylinder one, but with fuel savings of some 20%.

5.Daimler’s DiesOtto engine will use a combination of variable valve-control, fuel injection and turbocharging. It can switch between operating as a petrol engine, with agility and power, to operating as a diesel, with economy and torque. The DiesOtto engine starts as a petrol engine with spark plugs igniting the mixture of fuel and air in its cylinders, and remains as a petrol engine when high performance is needed. But at low and medium speeds the engine switches into diesel mode, in which the fuel is ignited by compression and heat alone. A 1.8-litre four-cylinder test version of DiesOtto fitted to a prototype Mercedes S-class saloon produced plenty of power, but also returned an average fuel consumption of 5.3 litres per 100km (equivalent in America to 44.4mpg)-extremely good for a such a big car. The vehicle’s emissions were also lower.

6.Ricardo, another British automotive-engineering company has been working on an engine that can switch from four-stroke to two-stroke running. Two-stroke engines can provide very high levels of torque. Ricardo reckons such an engine could not only improve fuel economy by 27% over a traditional engine but also greatly reduce its size and complexity. And because small engines take up less space in a car, that means there will be more room for occupants, inviting more innovative designs.

By putting all these technologies together, small cars capable of breaking the 100mpg barrier will become possible. Getting more than 80mpg from some small diesel-powered cars is already feasible-with a very light foot on the accelerator. Hybrid cars as available today are still pretty costly. The internal combustion engine remains hot for innovations. Even Indian auto engineers and the research institutions must focus their work on it and help in developing the technologies to improve the performance of the engine.

Two developments indicate the direction in which the car developments wish to move. A new company Tesla Motors is building high performance electric cars. And a huge prize money in Automotive X Prize aims at driving the innovations in auto industry.

It is really exhilarating to know that ISRO is leveraging its expertise in cryogenic technology to design hydrogen fuel cells to store hydrogen, and has teamed with Tata Motors to develop a prototype of a hydrogen passenger car to be launched in the Indian market later this year. Can the synergies of technical knowledge with all the research institutions in the country produce a commercial viable solution for use of hydrogen fuel cells? Can India take a lead in making a breakthrough innovation to find alternative solution to fossil fuels that is causing so much of concern worldwide?

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