Internal Combustion Engine of Tomorrow
As Americans get charged up about EVs, we're still using the old internal combustion engine, though, but we might not be stuck with the same old design. There's a lot of work being done to overhaul traditional engines and make them go a lot further on a gallon of gas, as Dan Goldstein tells us in this "energyNOW!" Spotlight.
[GOLDSTEIN] It might be cattle country here in Red Oak, Texas, but inside this tiny garage, well, if you ask Lonny Doyle, it's an automotive revolution.
[DOYLE] This is what I'm currently designing right now.
[GOLDSTEIN] This is his Doyle rotary engine, and if it ever made it into your car, it could potentially save you thousands of dollars on gas. Considering that a typical American family of four pays about $4,300 a year to fill their tank, that would be a savings of more than $1,000 a year. A lot of families would like that.
This family is working hard to make that happen. Lonny does the design, and his son, Casey, does the machining.
[DOYLE] We have two rows. This is the intake and compression row pistons here, and the other row is the power and exhaust.
[GOLDSTEIN] Doyle's engine has 12 pistons around a central crankshaft, compared to the 4, 6, or even 8 pistons you've probably got in your car right now.
[DOYLE] One big advantage that we have is, on a conventional engine, when the exhaust valve opens, that left-over energy just goes out the exhaust. We don't have to do that -- We get to keep that energy in our combustion chamber.
[GOLDSTEIN] And if Lonny can sell his little engine to the car manufacturers, it could mean big things for his family.
So, if this works out, you're going to have to buy your wife something nice.
[DOYLE] I'll have to buy her something really nice. We'll all have something nice if this works out.
[GOLDSTEIN] Okay, Lonny's not the first tinkerer who thinks he can reinvent the wheel -- or, in this case, the engine. The internal combustion engine has been under the hood as long as cars and trucks rolled off the assembly lines. And despite its inefficiencies -- like using too much oil and having too many moving parts -- it still worked reliably.
[CHRIS ATKINSON, MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PROFESSOR, WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY] To a large extent, it really is the same engine from 100 or 120 years ago.
[GOLDSTEIN] Chris Atkinson has been testing engines for two decades. He says with gas prices skyrocketing, just adding more hybrid electric or all electric cars isn't enough.
[ATKINSON] This has led to a new dawn, if you like, of people coming up with really interesting, innovative new engine concepts that have the potential to get a 10%, 20%, 30% fuel efficiency improvement in time.
[GOLDSTEIN] But to get the engine from here... to here -- you first might want to come here. This is the Society of Automotive Engineers exhibition, held every year in Detroit. Gearheads and motor enthusiasts like the Doyles come to check out the latest high-tech auto toys. And more and more engine alternatives are making it to the showroom floor.
[DAN KAPP, FORD MOTOR COMPANY] I've been in this business for a long time and I've never seen this level of activity and excitement.
[GOLDSTEIN] The Doyle family has plenty of competition. Among them...
[SALVATORE SCUDERI] The Scuderi's split-cycle design separates intake and compression from power and exhaust...
[GOLDSTEIN] This is the Scuderi split-stroke engine, twice as many pistons as a conventional engine.
[SCUDERI] We believe, if you take a typical automobile and you pull one engine out and drop our engine in, you're going to be looking at better than a 50% gain in miles per gallon and possibly up to as high as 100% gain, which is doubling your mileage.
[GOLDSTEIN] The Scuderi engine has venture capital backing -- $70 million worth.
And a short ride outside Detroit is another newfangled internal combustion engine in the making. Eco-Motors and their opposed-piston, opposed-cylinder engine. The engine is flat, and...
[DONALD RUNKLE, CEO, ECO-MOTORS] We can put a similar engine right here with a clutch in between it. Now you have 150 horsepower. But when you step into it and you need more power, the second engine just seamlessly comes on. That's worth about a 30% improvement in efficiency.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] To hear Don Runkle explain how his engine works go to energyNOW.com.
[GOLDSTEIN] Don Runkle's engine is, for now, off to a running start. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla have put up about $25 million worth of funding. Then there's Lonny Doyle. Venture capital funding -- zero.
But there's one great equalizer. None of these engines has actually made it into a car yet.
[KAPP] Something like that is a radical departure. Obviously, it takes you on a very different sort of learning curve to redevelop everything you know.
[GOLDSTEIN] But these engine entrepreneurs say changing the design of the engine is actually less radical than automakers' developing more hybrids or all-electric designs.
[SCUDERI] 99% of the parts that are used in today's engines will go into this engine.
[KAPP] Frankly, while Ford is a full-range manufacturer, what's the compelling reason I want to start all over on a technology learning curve, basically throwing away, literally, billions of dollars in assets to manufacture our engines, right, to jump onto a different horse which we don't know enough about yet.
[GOLDSTEIN] But Ford might be charging its tune. The day after we interviewed Dan Kapp, Ford engineers spent three hours looking over the Doyles' rotary engine. No promises from Ford yet, but a company spokesman says their engineers were impressed. And now, the Doyle family's little engine might be on to something big.
[DOYLE] It would just be a neat thing to go down in history knowing that you've helped the world somehow. That would just be incredible. What could be better than that?
[GOLDSTEIN] In Red Oak, Texas, Dan Goldstein, "energyNOW!"
The internal combustion engine has been the mainstay of the automobile for more than 100 years. But a new generation of engineers is working to build a better engine, one that runs more efficiently and gets better gas mileage. Correspondent Dan Goldstein looks at some of the new designs being pitched to auto makers and finds out how they're being received in Detroit.
Dan meets Lonny Doyle, whose family is working on its own version of a rotary engine in Red Oak, TX. Doyle explains why he believes his invention is better than the models on the road today. He follows the Doyles to the Society of Automotive Engineers' World Congress in Detroit, where they are among hundreds of entrepreneurs pitching new ideas to the automotive industry. Dan also visits some of Doyle's competitors who are hoping their engines will be adopted.
Dan also travels to Morgantown, WV, to talk to Chris Atkinson, a mechanical engineering professor at West Virginia University, who's been testing engines for two decades. Atkinson explains why putting more electric vehicles and hybrids on the road won't be enough to tame Americans' demand for gasoline.
Back in Detroit, Dan also interviews Dan Kapp of the Ford Motor Co., who talks about what the Big Three automakers look for in new technology, and explains why the industry as a whole has been slow to embrace new types of engines, despite their claims of new efficiency.
Can Doyle's invention, or anyone else's for that matter, change the world? Or is the traditional internal combustion engine entrenched with the U.S. auto establishment?
Last Wednesday was a big milestone for people who care about public health and a livable climate. Two utilities announced the planned closure of nine coal plants.Read more ...
Today, in the UK, the world's oldest nuclear power plant shut down.Read more ...
The U.S. led the world in clean energy investment in 2011, but China retained the top spot in the latest Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index from Ernst & Young.Read more ...