Skip to content

The future of internal combustion engines?

May 1, 2007

Fellow gear-head Tim takes note of the ongoing evolutionary tract of of the internal combustion engine at GM, and writes a rather thoughtful commentary on it’s progression.   He focuses on  GM’s most recent LS series of V8 motors and zero’s in on the valve-train and wonders if it’s the limitation going forward.   In a manner, an engine is “programmed” mechanically by the camshaft(s) that actuate the valve.  The amount of valve lift, how long the valves are held open (duration) and the relationship in opening and closing between the intake and exhaust create a fundamental design point.  All the other mechanical attributes – size and design of intake, exhaust and the combustion chamber all have to work in harmony with this.  Oversight by the ECU – computer and sensor controls for fuel and ignition timing are added on top of this, but become lessor variables in the equation.  The variable cam timing in the post Tim talks about allows for incremental improvement of the base equation, but to really break through the current envelope something more radical would need to be required.

What if the cam were infinitely variable?

Jim’s garage  highlights this webcast presentation on the mechatronics site, and in part 2 of the 3 part presentation, the focus is on a “Camless Engine”.  Here the idea that valves could be designed so as to be computer controlled and individually actuated.  This would be ground breaking on many fronts. 

1) No throttle body / throttle plates would be required.  

2) The engine would be “camless” and would reduce probably 10 hp in parasitic drag, not to mention wear and heat. 

3) Timing belts / chains / gears would be eliminated. 

4) Most importantly, the operating envelop and overall efficiency of the engine could be optimized over it’s entire operating RPM range!

While this certainly represents a more comprehensive step forward in design efficiency, there is still a lot of energy per gallon of gas being left on the virtual table.   Much of the energy from the fuel we burn is lost to heat that flows out the exhaust pipe, or is dispersed through the car’s radiator as a useless byproduct, except for those winter months when it is used to keep the occupants warm.  What if we were to redesign the engine so that we didn’t have to try to keep it cool?  What if, the hotter it ran, the better it was?   Some years ago, mechanical great, Smokey Yunick proposed just that – and patented it.   Why is it not in place today?  Conspiracy, or were their unforeseen technical reasons why it couldn’t see practical production?

Click for larger image


Smokey’s Hot Vapor Engine

 “…Twenty years ago, the late, great racing mechanic and inventor Henry “Smokey” Yunick left the automotive engineers shaking their heads when he invented and patented his hot vapor engine. Based on the familiar four-cycle piston engine concept, instead of cooling the intake air to improve efficiency, he used coolant heat and exhaust waste heat to significantly warm the intake air. The purpose was to fully vaporize the fuel and to make the intake air expand in the intake system to generate positive pressure, like a supercharger. A small turbocharger was used as a “mixer” and as a check valve to prevent the expanding intake air from backflowing out of the intake system. With the heated, pressurized, homogenous mixture, the engine ran at air/fuel ratios considered impossibly lean, such as 22:1, on pump gasoline. The hot vapor engine made incredible power and was highly efficient, responsive, surprisingly emissions clean, and delivered fuel economy of 45-50 MPG in a compact car, and it did it all without computers, smog pumps or catalytic converters. Although initially denounced by the automotive world as a hoax, several prominent SAE engineers later published papers validating Smokey’s theories and design. It was no hoax to Smokey. He considered it his greatest achievement. However, the automotive giants had their own designs for increasing fuel economy and controlling emissions, and Smokey’s simple and cost-efficient engine package was ignored. Today, Smokey’s designs are buried somewhere in the U.S. Patent Office (, patent numbers: 4,503,833; 4,592,329; 4,637,365; 4,862,859) awaiting someone to take this technology to the next level…”

The complete text on the heat engine was found on the banks website, as written by C.J. Baker.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 2, 2007 12:45 am

    We need to change, we are held hostage by gasoline

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: