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The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

On the Future of the Piston Engine with Internal Combustion

An Overview
Dr. F. Atzler, Research and Development, IVECO Motorenforschung AG, CH-9320 Arbon Marie Curie Fellowship Conference Wednesday, 16th to Saturday, 19th of May 2001, at Profactor GmbH, Steyr, Austria
1 Abstract

The piston engine with internal combustion has developed from a simple concept with few moving parts into a sophisticated device, which allows the tuning of virtually every component, relevant for intake, combustion and discharge of the working media, air and fuel. This technological progress will ascertain, that piston engines will be a prime source of motive power for some time to come. Additionally, alternative fuels and new methods of exhaust gas after treatment will be used to ensure clean and efficient utilisation of the fuel. The most prominent recent technological developments will be presented in the following Sections, to give an overview over the potential that is left in an invention which is now over 100 years old. 2 Introduction

Not long ago the 100th birthday of the piston engine with internal combustion, here abbreviated ICE, was celebrated. Its basic concept is simple and it offers many advantages in comparison to other sources of mechanical power. Due to the possibility to generate energy from combustion in exactly the quantity needed, no storage or buffer is necessary, like e.g. in electrical systems. Furthermore it has a much higher flexibility with respect to transient power demand than the gas turbine, combined with reasonable efficiency. Because of the possibility to operate the ICE on fossil fuels, it is fairly independent of the location where one might want to use it. Here, liquid fuels are particularly attractive, since the logistics of Diesel or petrol are much simpler than those of e.g. natural gas or hydrogen and the because the energy density also is much higher. However, the combustion of fossil fuels causes harmful emissions and consumes a natural resource which also provides the raw material for many important products of daily life. The future of the piston engine will to a large extent depend on the possibilities to adapt it to the new requirements. These essentially are to reduce emissions and consumption. To this end the simplicity of the piston engine is slowly replaced by refined technical systems for the control of most engine components involved in the intake and exhaust of the working media,

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

air and fuel. Due to the intermittent nature of combustion and gas exchange, fluid oscillations play a big role in the filling and scavenging of the cylinder. Moreover, mixture formation and the consistency of the appropriate air fuel ratio are also affected. The pipe lengths of the intake, the timing of a mechanical valve gear, the in-cylinder flow and other processes mostly work efficiently only for a limited range of operational conditions covered by the engine. Therefore fixed geometries and mechanics are substituted by variable solutions, some of which will be presented in the following sections. It is interesting to note that many of these modern solutions are not new at all. Many of them have been described in old patents, but only now it is possible to realise these concepts because at the time suitable materials and control mechanisms were not available. 3 Technological Developments


Electronic Engine Management Computer control of engine processes by itself is not a primary source improvement of the engine thermodynamics. But without it most technologies nowadays implemented in combustion engines could not be used at all, owing to the complexity of the control processes and the multitude of variables. The advent of engine managements was in the late 70ies when the Motronic was pioneered by Bosch [1]. Since the advent of electrically pressure controlled systems, injectors complete for high


management is not only available for petrol but also for Diesel engines. One of many modern examples is the IVECO Cursor 8, a 7.8 litre Diesel engine with complete electronic engine management [2]. The system processes inputs from a number of engine sensors, e.g. engine speed, intake air Figure 1: Schematic of inputs and outputs of an electronic engine management [2] temperature and pressure, driver service engine

temperature, (accelerator

and pedal,

commands and engine

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

brakes), to yield the appropriate fuelling, to protect the engine from overload and to coordinate different braking systems. It is also possible to link semi or fully automated gearboxes to the engine control unit, which further enhances the potential for fuel saving and emission reduction. Latest developments comprise self learning systems, that adapt e.g. to individual driving styles or fuel saving strategies. 3.2 Direct Injection


Diesel Engines

Although direct injection in Truck Diesel engines has been in use for a very long time now, it only has been about 10 years since it was successfully implemented in passenger car engines [3]. Up to then the pre-chamber combustion system was widely used, which offered a relatively quiet combustion process. Yet, the pumping losses originating from the small passage between the pre-chamber and the cylinder caused a loss in efficiency of approximately 15%. Cylinder pressures on the other hand where lower, leading to lower emissions of NOx. Noise and emissions problems were overcome by the advent of new electronic high pressure injection systems. A key role was played by the electrically controlled injectors, which, among others, made so-called pilot injections possible. These serve preheat the combustion chamber before the injection of the main quantity of fuel, leading to a more controlled ignition and combustion. Electric control also allows the engineer to vary the injection timing according to emission or power requirements. This is particularly true for common rail systems which do not rely on a fixed cam shape to provide fuel pressure for a set time window. Common rail uses a continuous high pressure pump to feed a reservoir, from which the injector draws fuel at any time. The development of new fast acting injectors will allow for the shaping of the injection rate to further reduce emissions [4]. 3.2.2 Petrol Engines

Direct injection has, amongst others, been used in the 60ies by Daimler Benz in their legendary model 300SL. However, then it was applied, like all other petrol mixture formation systems, to produce a stoichiometric and homogeneous mixture. Today direct injection is used to eliminate an engine component, hitherto imperative in petrol engines, the throttle or butterfly valve. In a conventional petrol engine power output is controlled by the quantity of mixture allowed into the cylinder by means of the throttle. This is necessary because the mixture is formed outside the cylinder. The Diesel engine, by comparison, always takes in the same amount of air and the combustible mixture is formed in-cylinder by direct injection. There is no need to throttle the amount of air flowing into the cylinder and, hence, the amount of work done to exchange the gases is considerably lower. This significantly improves the overall engine efficiency. Unlike in a

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

petrol engine, the diesel engine is based on self-ignition of the fuel upon injection,

Figure 2: Different direct injection combustion strategies [5]

irrespective of where the fuel is located in the cylinder. However, to combust petrol in a controlled manner in a self-ignition process is not yet possible. Therefore the direct injection petrol engine needs a spark plug and injection has to be managed in such a way, that a cloud of reliably ignitable mixture is present at the spark plug at the required time of

Figure 3: Tumble air motion and particularly shaped piston crown for petrol DI, here a system by FEV Aachen [6]

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

discharge. In order to facilitate this fairly complex combination of processes there are several methods, shown in Fig. 2. One uses a particularly shaped piston crown to direct the fuel rich cloud to the spark, the other one relies on the generation of a tumbling charge motion in the cylinder for this purpose (Fig.3). A third method uses air assisted atomisation to provide the appropriate mixture at the spark plug. There are several examples of production engines, notably the Mitsubishi GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) and the VW Lupo FSI [7]. 3.3 Variable Geometry Turbo Chargers and After Cooling

Turbo charging has been used to forcibly increase the quantity of working gas in the cylinder since the 1920ies, particularly for truck diesel engines. Petrol engines in these days were mostly supercharged due to the thermal problems caused by high exhaust temperatures. Today turbo charging often is mentioned in connection with downsizing, i.e. to use a small turbo charged engine instead of a big naturally aspirated one for the same power output. A smaller engine offers essentially two fuel saving advantages: less weight and less friction. This is particularly important at part load. It is important to note that, unlike truck engines, passenger car engines run at part load for most of their lives! After cooling of the compressed and therefore heated charging air has several positive effects: the air density increases, which further improves cylinder filling, and the thermal load on the engine decreases. It also leads to lower peak combustion temperature producing less NOx. Turbo machinery is prone to changes in efficiency with changes in throughput as well as rotational speed. This mainly affects the inlet side of the turbine which, subject to geometry, determines the best operational point of the turbine as well as the back pressure on the exhaust side of the engine. This can, at least partly, be overcome by turbine inlets with adjustable vanes or nozzles. Variable geometry turbine inlets provide good turbine efficiency over a wide range of intake conditions. This improves boost pressure at low engine speeds and prevents excessive back pressures at high revs. High back pressure increases the work needed for scavenging the cylinder and hence spoils engine efficiency. Two mechanisms are shown in Figure 4, 5 and 6. At differences in exhaust gas temperature of more than 500C, peak temperatures beyond 700C and in the presence of highly aggressive gases, these mechanisms need to be very robust and sophisticated to guarantee proper functioning at all times. The control of variable vane mechanisms to satisfy transient power requirements and also engine braking (IVECO Turbo Brake) is only possible by means of engine management systems [2].

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

Figure 4 and 5: Variable turbine geometry, a slider opens and closes the turbine entry cross section.

Figure 6: Variable turbine geometry, pivoting vanes control the entry cross section and angle.


Variable Intake Lengths and Variable Valve Trains

On naturally aspirated engines the length of the intake tube has a profound effect on cylinder charging. A well tuned intake system can offer a degree of charging of more than 100% cylinder volume. However, this only works for a certain band of engine speeds. In conventional engines a compromise of intake length and valve timing is necessary to produce a smooth torque curve. Several engine manufacturers now use intake manifolds with switchable intake lengths [8]. In

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

series production engines these intake mechanisms usually are facilitated by fairly complicated injection moulded plastic parts. The principle and the intake manifold of one such system are shown in Figure 7. The movement of the actuators is controlled by the engine management, mostly in conjunction with the valve timing, since this also has a profound effect on the oscillation in the intake.

Figure 7 Schematic of a switchable intake manifold and its realisation on the engine [8].

Optimum valve timing is a function of engine speed. At low engine speeds the gas column moving into the cylinder does not have much momentum and the intake valve needs to close early to prevent the fresh charge from being pushed back out of the cylinder. At high engine speeds the momentum of the gas column can be used to achieve good cylinder filling, since it moves on into the cylinder even when the piston has moved beyond bottom dead centre. Therefore the intake valve should close late. Analogous there are different requirements for the exhaust timing and for turbo charged engines. A good

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

example for variable valve timing is the so-called BMW double VANOS system, that adjusts both, intake and exhaust camshafts via the engine management. Apart from valve opening and closing timing valve lift also is important. Small valve lift is favourable at part load to improve drivability and emissions, because the charge is intensively mixed when is flows through the narrow gap. High valve lift is needed for maximum filling, i.e. power output. A system with two lift levels was devised by Porsche and INA [9]. This is shown in Fig. 8.

Figure 8: Valve tappet with 2 stages of valve lift and Figure 9: Electromagnetic valve train, by FEV Aachen [11]

hydraulic actuation [9]

The next step is to loose the throttle valve and control the cylinder charge by the lift and timing of the intake valve. A review of methods and strategies as well as a fully variable mechanical system, which recently went into production, is presented in [10]. However, this system still depends on a fixed cam shape to provide the mechanical movement. Full freedom of timing and lift will be possible only with electro-magnetic or electro-hydraulic systems, which at the moment only exist in prototypes (Fig. 9). The weight and cost of these systems are still prohibitive, but it

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview

is to be expected that they will be available in some years. The fuel saving potential is estimated to be equally high than that of unthrottled engine operation with direct injection.


Variable Compression

Within certain limits engine efficiency increases with compression ratio. For petrol engines the limit is knock. Variable compression on its own only offers a limited potential, 4-5% [12] for improvements in thermodynamic efficiency. But, combined with supercharging the

improvements are considerable. Such an engine was devised by SAAB and was presented in [13]. A schematic is shown in Fig. 10. The use of a supercharger allows the engine to be small, yielding the improvements of downsizing discussed in Section 3.3. However, super charged petrol engines usually need to run at low geometric compression ratios to prevent knock under conditions of full boost. Subsequently, when the engine runs at part load and low boost pressures the efficiency inherently is low. The SAAB engine also runs at a geometric compression ratio of only 8:1 for full load, developing some 140 BHP and 190 Nm Torque per litre displacement volume. At part load the compression ratio is increased to 14:1 to keep the efficiency high. Although the mechanism, a tilting engine block, requires considerable machining, the cost of the complete 5 cylinder engine is quoted to be midway between a conventional in-line 4 and a V6 [12].

Figure 10: SAAB variable compression engine

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview


Emissions After Treatment

All emissions, that cannot be avoided by optimised combustion, have to be post processed. The currently used 3 way catalyst relies on a stoichiometric mixture being burnt in the engine, since it cannot cope with excess oxygen in the exhaust gas. This, however, is unsuitable for Diesel engines as well as unthrottled direct injection petrol engines. To achieve the very low NOx and particulate levels prescribed by Euro IV and V emissions standards, new after treatments will be necessary, like the urea catalyst and possible particulate filters. These technologies have been described e.g. in [14]. 4 Conclusions

There are still many possibilities for improvement and refinement, that will keep the piston engine with internal combustion alive. The availability of cheap and fast electronic chips made the realisation of many concepts possible that turn the formerly simple Otto or Diesel engine into a high tech device of the 21st century. Before fuel cell driven vehicles will be sold in big numbers, hybrids will probably use small piston engines in combination with electric motors/generators for highly flexible drive trains using small battery packs for city driving and transient power peaks, thus giving the piston engine an even longer life. Also, alternative fuels might be used in the future for cleaner more efficient engines. 5 Personal Comment

The future of the piston engine appears to be bright for some time to come. There is still enough room for improvement and refinement if legislation requires it or the industry wants to sell it. There is an ever ongoing spiral of more power in ever smaller cars. More comfort and safety features make cars heavier and heavier, compensating the improvements in fuel consumption. At this point the question needs to be asked how much power, comfort and safety one needs in a vehicle? A VW Golf S in the 70ies weighed 900kg, had a 1.6 litre engine with 75 BHP, no fancy technology and consumed approximately 7 l of petrol for 100km. It was reasonably fast, reliable and probably safe and its torque curve was good. Today a Golf is a middle class car and weighs in at 1400 kg, has a 110 or 150 BHP but still a similar specific power and consumption. Where has all the technological progress gone? Is it the public that asks for more of everything or is it the marketing that easily convinces us that we need it? The above presented technical features are excellent tools and they should be put to good use in a car with maybe a bit less power but in exchange for drastically less consumption and emissions.

The Future of the Piston Engine, An Overview


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