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Scientists developed a cheap and reliable hydraulic variable valve system, increasing the efficiency by 10 %

Posted March 25, 2018

What is 10 %? If your boss increased your salary by 10 %, would you be happy? What if it got reduced by the same amount? 10 % is actually a significant percentage, requiring a decade worth of research, when it comes to the efficiency of internal combustion technology. However, scientists from the University of Waterloo have managed to increase the efficiency of IC engine, retaining its reliability and affordability.

Current IC engines use cams to operate the intake and exhaust valve – this lacks flexibility, because timing remains the same, regardless of driving conditions. Image credit: Morio via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Everyone thinks that the internal combustion engine is dead. However, it is here to stay for at least several decades more. It is used to power most of the cars, pretty much all of the ships, a lot of trains and other transport equipment. Scientists now managed to develop and patent a new system for opening and closing the valves to significantly increase IC engine’s efficiency. Variable valve technology is already well-proven, but this new achievement will allow bringing it from the laboratory to the real cars without any problems with cost or complexity.

In your typical IC engine, intake and exhaust valves are controlled by a cam mechanism, which is not flexible – timing of the opening and closing of valves cannot be varied. But these cams are not really necessary, as is proven by an on-going effort to eradicate them from the engine bay.  Scientists now replaced them with hydraulic cylinders and rotary hydraulic valves, which allow for fully variable timing as the speed and torque of an engine change. Variable valve timing is key to increasing engine efficiency and reducing its cost, while combatting greenhouse emissions at the same time. However, other systems are very expensive and complex, which pretty much limits their use to a laboratory setting or, maybe, high-end cars.

The technology developed at the University of Waterloo is quite a bit cheaper and simpler, making it a good candidate to be integrated into mining and other industrial machinery, as well as passenger cars. Scientists say that their method is reliable and affordable and variable valve timing could reduce our carbon footprint quite significantly. Amir Khajepour, one of the scientists behind this project, said: “If you think about an ideal solution, it is to make the motion of the valve completely controllable. That gives you infinite options to work with”. And, as scientists estimate, it could increase the efficiency by 10 %.

In this case 10 % is a giant leap. This technology is already patented, which means that it could find its way into mass-produced internal combustion engines in the nearest future.


Source: University of Waterloo

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