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Friday, May 2, 2008

Six New Technologies Will Help Manufacturers Reach the 35 MPG Goal (Without Hybrids)

As the automakers scramble to make plans for achieving 35 MPG by 2020, it seems that our suspicions that the task is entirely possible without fancy hybrids or hydrogen cars has been confirmed. The manufacturers been achieving high mileage in Europe and Japan for years now, so I expect to see it in the US eventually. Luckily, there are six exciting new technologies that are going to make it possible in the US.

These technologies are interesting because they come without the paradigm shift that seems to accompany buying a hybrid or a small economy car. Cars equipped with this green tech will be just like any other car, just more efficient.

More on the six new engine technologies after the break.

  1. Multistage oil pump: Oil pumps usually only pump oil out through one port, meaning that under every circumstance the pump ends up doing about the same amount of work. Multistage oil pumps, like those that are beginning to be released with some Toyotas, use two oil ports, one small and one larger, to make sure that the amount of oil being pump is optimized based on the operating conditions of the engine. During low-stress operation, only the smallest pump will be used. As the engine is put through its paces, it will switch to the large port, and finally, if you’re really going all out, both ports will open up to allow maximum flow.
  2. Shortened cylinder head: In the past, cylinder heads have remained a certain height in order to keep the valves aligned in operation. While this presents and issue for shorter cylinder heads (which save weight), guides on the top of the valve springs can be used in conjunction with standard valve guides to ensure smooth operation. The weight difference might not be that dramatic, but at the very least, it will cut down on some materials usage.
  3. Variable compression ratio: Engines are more efficient at higher compression ratios, but that doesn’t mean it’s always best to be running at the highest compression ratio you can. With that in mind, several manufacturers have begun exploring variable compression ratio engines, where the connecting rod length can be changed using an actuator so that during low-load operation (like driving on the freeway) compression ratio is reduced and fuel economy improves dramatically.
  4. Guided-spray turbo: The most important thing here is not the turbo, but the method of creating the air-fuel mix in the combustion chamber. The injectors and chamber have been redesigned so that spark plugs are positioned to more efficiently ignite the fuel-air mix and pistons have also been redesigned to create a swirling in the chamber (something that’s been used since Honda since 1992 in fuel economy-conscious engines). Together, all these designs make for incredibly efficient combustion, resulting in impressive power output and comparably good fuel economy numbers.
  5. Electromagnetic valve actuators: In my opinion, this is probably one of the neatest new technologies out there. By using electromagnets to control the valve train, the camshaft and all its friction losses and rotating mass would be replaced with a system of almost no moving parts that can also precisely control valve timing and adjust it to run the most efficiently in any condition. While expensive, this change could bring up to a 19% improvement in fuel efficiency, and might very well be implemented down the road.
  6. Hydraulic power electrification: Car makers have already begun this switch-over, as it is one of the most common-sense, and easiest things to do. Beginning with the move from belted radiator fans to electric, car makers have started trying to reduce parasitic loads on the engine. Because electric versions of things like power steering and A/C are more efficient (and run when the engine isn’t on, which is necessary for full hybrids), we’re already starting to see these things popping up on Honda and Toyota hybrid models. Soon manufacturers will be moving even to electric water pumps, which are more efficient and precise.

So, do we at Gas 2.0 anticipate seeing these technologies any time soon, or are they just more pie in the sky stuff that the automakers like to trot out to “prove” they’re “doing something.” Well, several of these we have seen already, and with the automakers scrambling to make 35 MPG in a very unfriendly market, it seems like the cheapest way to do so will be to use some of these tricks rather than trying to upgrade everyone to hybrids. Hopefully we’ll begin seeing these technologies in run-of-the-mill engines sooner, rather than later.

Original here

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