New technology from MIT would make internal combustion engines more efficent than hybrids

The MIT Technology Review reports:

For Daniel Cohn, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, the century-old internal-combustion engine is still a source of inspiration. As he strides past the machinery and test equipment in the MIT Sloan Automotive Laboratory, his usually reserved demeanor drops away. “An engine this size,” he says, pointing out an ordinary-looking 2.4-liter midsize gasoline engine, “would be a rocket with our technology.”

By way of explaining that technology, he shows off a turbocharger that could be bolted to the 2.4-liter engine; the engine, he adds, uses direct fuel injection rather than the port injection currently found in most cars. Both turbocharging and direct injection are pre-existing technologies, and neither looks particularly impressive. Indeed, used separately, they would lead to only marginal improvements in the performance of an internal-combustion engine. But by combining them, and augmenting them with a novel way to use a small amount of ethanol, Cohn and his colleagues have created a design that they believe could triple the power of a test engine, an advance that could allow automakers to convert small engines designed for economy cars into muscular engines with more than enough power for SUVs or sports cars. By extracting better performance from smaller, more efficient engines, the technology could lead to vehicles whose fuel economy rivals that of hybrids, which use both an electric motor and a gasoline engine. And that fuel efficiency could come at a fraction of the cost.

A turbocharger and a direct-?injection system would add to the cost of an engine, as would strengthening its walls to allow for a higher level of turbocharging. The added equipment costs, however, would be partially offset by the reduced expense of manufacturing a smaller engine. In total, an engine equipped with the new technology would cost about $1,000 to $1,500 more than a conventional engine. Hybrid systems, which are expensive because they require both an internal-combustion engine and an electric motor powered by batteries, add $3,000 to $5,000 to the cost of a small to midsize vehicle–and even more to the cost of a larger vehicle.

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