Simple valve solution can make engines significantly cheaper and cleaner

21 Mar 2018

Image: fabiodevilla/Shutterstock

Engineers have tinkered with the design of the internal combustion engine to produce one that is significantly cheaper and cleaner than the standard model.

Governments and advocates have called for a mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and the phasing out of cars using internal combustion engines (ICEs) in an effort to slash pollution rates, not just in cities but around the globe.

So far, adoption rates have definitely increased as the technology improves and becomes more affordable to the average motorist, but it could be decades before the EV dream is fulfilled.

In the meantime, a team of researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada has demonstrated a new technology that promises major advantages for the auto industry as it increases the efficiency of ICE cars by more than 10pc.

In a typical ICE, intake and exhaust valves are controlled by cam mechanisms that do not allow the timing of their opening and closing to be varied, making them rather fuel inefficient.

However, this new technology – which has been a decade in the making – replaces cams with hydraulic cylinders and rotary hydraulic valves, enabling fully variable timing as the speed and torque of an engine change.

This ability to specifically time the opening and closing of valves according to engine operation is key to increasing fuel efficiency, reducing both costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

An ideal solution

While the ability to alter valve timing systems is not a new concept, it has so far been limited to use in experimental engines and labs because of high cost and complexity.

However, this new technology is significantly cheaper and simpler, making it ideal not only for privately owned vehicles, but any business reliant on powerful engines, such as the mining industry or trucking.

“If you think about an ideal solution, it is to make the motion of the valve completely controllable. That gives you infinite options to work with,” said Amir Khajepour, an engineer involved in the project, and a Canada research chair and director of the University of Waterloo’s Mechatronic Vehicle Systems Lab.

“This method has the potential to bring the well-established benefits of a fully variable valve system out of the lab and into production engines because cost and complexity aren’t issues.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic