Ultra-Efficient Gas Engine Passes Test

By Kevin Bullis in Technology Review, March 8 2010

Transonic Combustion, a startup based in Camarillo, CA, has developed a fuel-injection system it says can improve the efficiency of gasoline engines by more than 50 percent. A test vehicle equipped with the technology gets 64 miles per gallon in highway driving, which is far better than more costly gas-electric hybrids, such as the Prius, which gets 48 miles per gallon on the highway.

The key is heating and pressurizing gasoline before injecting it into the combustion chamber, says Mike Rocke, Transonic's vice president of business development. This puts it into a supercritical state that allows for very fast and clean combustion, which in turn decreases the amount of fuel needed to propel a vehicle. The company also treats the gasoline with a catalyst that "activates" it, partially oxidizing it to enhance combustion.

The technology is one of many being developed to squeeze more efficiency out of existing engines to meet new fuel economy standards and other regulations--without making vehicles more expensive. "It's a time of renaissance for internal combustion engines," says William Green, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT. Improvements include smaller engines boosted with turbocharging, improved valve timing, and direct injection, in which fuel is injected directly into the combustion chamber rather than into an adjacent port. He says Transonic's approach "may be a promising way to improve on conventional direct injection."

If it works as promised, the new technology would improve fuel economy by far more than these other options, some of which can improve efficiency on the order of 20 percent. It is expected to cost about as much as high-end fuel injection systems currently on the market, Rocke says.

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