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New Split-Cycle Engine Design Too Good; Too Late?

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On: Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 3:09PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

New Split-Cycle Engine Design Too Good; Too Late?

Most folks know at least one person who is a motor tinkerer. You know the type: they like to take apart a car engine and put it back together again just for the fun. Sometimes, they might actually stumble upon a way of improving the performance of the car. Obviously, it’s handy to have a mechanic on standby who can swap out a carburetor or replace an air filter. On the other hand, these homebound tinkerers often have a leftover part or two that they have no idea where it came from.

The Scuderi Group has their own motor tinkerers who might just have stumbled upon a split-cycle engine design that literally splits the typical four-cycle piston engine into two distinct piston pumping zones. The potential result is an improvement in fuel efficiency. How much of an improvement? Could be as much as 50% in overall fuel economy. However, there are a few “asterisks” that need to be attached to those projections.

Let’s review the standard engine design. Your typical four-cycle engine utilizes four piston strokes:

  1. down stroke which pulls air into the cylinder
  2. up-stroke that compresses air and fuel into the cylinder
  3. combustion stroke that ignites the fuel and air turning them into energy
  4. additional up-stroke that clears exhaust from the cylinder

That's the basis of your typical four-stroke engine. Now along comes the split-cycle engine that separates all those functions into two distinct cylinders one for intake and compression and the other for combustion and exhaust. Why would any of this matter? The theory goes that is you change up the combustion timer then the piston leverage has improved performance, ergo improved efficiency, at lower speeds. The additional compressed air tank that siphons off the air intake on the split-cycle design uses that exhaust to provide fuel for the engine. All of this means the engine is actually working smarter… in theory.

The emphasis here is on the words “in theory.” This new engine design has been created only in computer simulations at the Scuderi Group’s labs. And that simulation has been in only one car model—a 2004 Chevy Cavalier. Although there is some interest in seeing how this design plays out, it’s really meant to improve gas-powered engines. The problem is that with the advances in hybrid technology coming down the pike, the split-cycle might never make it out of the hard drive. It could end up being obsolete before it is even constructed.


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