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2014 SAE Show Future Tech Roundup

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/22/2014 Frank Markus

With the DOT/EPA 54.5-mpg CAFE mandate looming just 11 years off, it’s no surprise that a majority of the booths at the 2014 SAE show—at least of the ones that caught my eye—aimed to entice weary OE engineers with better fuel-saving mousetraps. The solutions range from completely new engine concepts to easy-looking revisions and current engines (I found six, including one for boats). There were also hybrid systems (two, including a flywheel), four interesting ideas for ancillary systems, and weight-saving schemes. And at around the same time, Visteon invited me out to see some of its latest human-machine-interface schemes. Spend a day at SAE and you’ll be convinced that the motoring future is not necessarily all that bleak. Here are the highlights.


Achates Power Opposed Piston Engine

These are the OTHER opposed-piston folks, not the OPOC folks. Achates is proposing a two-stroke three-cylinder six-piston design, which stands on end to fit easily in the package space of a typical I-4 or V-6 engine. The Achates gang reckons the opposed piston idea is ideal for a two-stroke because the cylinder’s surface-area-to-volume area during combustion is less, reducing heat losses. By slightly offsetting the crank, the exhaust ports can be exposed slightly ahead of the intake one and with direct injection, there’s no worry about the Lawn-Boy blue-smoke situation of fuel, oil, and poorly combusted exhaust blowing out, and oil consumption is no different than with a conventional engine. Friction is a bit better, because with no cylinder-head bolts to distort the bore, it remains more circular. Being a two-stroke, it produces six-cylinder power impulses and enjoys good power density, and the counter-rotating cranks cancel most vibrations. And because peak cylinder pressures are lower, the engine isn’t as heavy as most diesels and the engine-out emissions are lower. The engine is supercharged ant turbocharged, and because there is always at least one cylinder with both ports open, these blowers can operate more efficiently, and the only pumping loss is that of the supercharger. Deleting the cylinder head(s), valvetrain, and related machining operations saves about as much cost as the second crank and the geartrain to connect the two adds back, and there might very well be some savings in required exhaust aftertreatment. Extensive computer modeling suggests that this engine would be 30 percent more fuel efficient than an experimental Cummins ATLAS 2.8-liter turbodiesel in a Nissan Titan pickup of nearly equal power output (200 hp/369 lb-ft). The Achates concept is headed for production, first in heavy stationary power-generation or ship applications.

Upper crank looks like overhead cam, as arranged for installation in a pickup truck.© Provided by MotorTrend Upper crank looks like overhead cam, as arranged for installation in a pickup truck.

CPT SpeedStart Mild 48-Volt Hybrid

First off, let’s review: 48 volts is the nominal voltage, which is four times the current norm for car batteries, meaning that its range of operation can go as high as but never higher than 60 volts—the danger level for humans (above which orange cables and special training for first responding jaws-of-life operators are required). The 42-volt ideas that floated a decade or so ago referred to a nominal 36-volt system, and the idea then was to convert the whole car to that voltage. These days we talk of dual-voltage, with a DC-DC converter, so that nobody has to re-engineer all the 12-volt light bulbs, radios, seat heaters, etc. But high-current-draw devices become way more efficient and require smaller, lighter wiring harnesses as the voltage increases, so the belt-alternator-starter at the center of this concept, and other high-draw devices like heated windshields(like electric power steering) would migrate to 48V. The crux of this concept is the switched-reluctance alternator/traction motor. The design requires no rare-earth metals and is extremely robust, now that the electronics to control this type of motor are so readily available. This is not envisioned for cars badged as hybrids. It’s meant to help preserve customer-expected performance while downsizing and down-speeding an engine to provide fuel economy gains approaching those of diesel at 1/5th the price. Expect to see it on the road within a few years, probably first with a German automaker.

An exploded view of the CPT SpeedStart starter/alternator.© Provided by MotorTrend An exploded view of the CPT SpeedStart starter/alternator.

Southwest Research Institute Dedicated-EGR engine

Meeting the 54.5-mpg target may require some innovative thinking—like: Why must all the cylinders do the same thing? SwRI has built a running prototype of a high compression (11.7:1) 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged engine in which three cylinders behave normally, feeding the turbo, while the fourth runs a mixture that’s up to 40 percent rich, with all of its exhaust being fed back into the intake. Running excess exhaust gas recirculation is great for lowering combustion temperature and hence reducing emissions, while the rich mixture produces “reformate”—a mix of carbon-monoxide and hydrogen gas. CO is a decent fuel, H2 is a fantastic fuel that increases the flame speed, EGR tolerance, knock resistance, and fuel economy. During cold starts, the cylinders all run stoichiometric and a valve routes all gasses from the fourth cylinder directly to the catalyst for quicker light-off. After that, the D-EGR cycle begins, with the rich EGR being fed into the intake stream downstream of the turbo, but before the intercooler via a special mixing valve to ensure a homogenous mix reaches all cylinders. A supercharger boosts the pressure of this mixture when needed, but light levels of boost are always used. Just enough to enable downspeeding and match the torque levels of the 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated engine that defined the target performance in the Buick Regal test car. The results: slightly improved torque, equivalent performance and drivability, and 7-14 percent fuel economy improvement with full emissions compliance. SwRI D-EGR engine installed in a Buick Regal gives 2.4-L naturally aspirated performance with greatly improved fuel economy.© Provided by MotorTrend SwRI D-EGR engine installed in a Buick Regal gives 2.4-L naturally aspirated performance with greatly improved fuel economy.

2014 SAE Show Future Tech Roundup

IAV Quality-Controlled Gasoline Engine

The name doesn’t tell you much, but the idea here is to design a direct-injected engine that can sustain ultra-lean mixtures (up to three-times stoichiometric) throughout all load and speed ranges. The secret in this case is using an ultra-high-energy five-tipped spark plug that ionizes the mixture in the chamber while sending out five plasma streamers. By selecting fuel injectors with an identical five-hole pattern and locating the plug and injector very close together, combustion can initiate almost simultaneously throughout the chamber along in these lines of locally rich fuel and spark. Get it right and Germany-based automotive test and development consultancy IAV reckons fuel economy of this compound-supercharged engine could improve by 15 percent under partial-load conditions and 28 percent under high loads with total engine efficiency approaching 40 percent. Exhaust temperatures of 1200 degrees F promote stable exhaust aftertreatment. Cost is said to be similar to that of downsizing and turbocharging, with most of the expense going into the spark plugs and higher energy coils (250-300 kilojoules, up from the typical 40). There are no productions plans to announce as yet.

UW RCCI Hybrid

OK, this one’s the farthest out there. Note the twin fuel fillers? This baby runs on gas AND diesel! RCCI stands for Reactivity-Controlled Compression Ignition. What the University of Wisconsin’s Alumni Research Foundation is attempting here is to ignite a low-reactivity port-injected fuel like gasoline or E85 with just enough high-reactivity direct-injected diesel fuel to light the mixture and burn it at low enough temperatures to prevent NOx and soot formation. Lab tests are showing overall gross indicated efficiency of 54.3 percent (up 11.5 from diesel), with practically no NOx and a tenth the soot. The ratio of gas to diesel could vary from 10/90 to 90/10 depending on load/speed conditions, but to date the RCCI’s transient behavior isn’t ready for prime-time, so for the Saturn VUE demonstration vehicle, a Fiat 1.9-liter turbodiesel modified to run RCCI is functioning as a range-extender for a series hybrid, which allows it to run at a continuous level. In this setup, dyno tests are suggesting 50-mpg fuel economy in a weight-optimized Ford Fusion-size/weight vehicle.

Neander Shark

The idea of a two-cylinder diesel engine standing on end and powering an outboard marine drive might sound mighty shaky, but there’s secret to smoothing out the world’s first turbodiesel outboard marine engine. Developed in conjunction with powertrain and vehicle engineering consultancy FEV, each of the pistons connects to two counter-rotating crankshafts. The upper “little end” of the connecting rods attach to a single large pin, affectionately dubbed “Spaceball” that itself rotates back and forth inside the piston. A side-benefit to this approach is that there are virtually no side-loads on the piston, which reduces piston-to-cylinder-wall friction almost enough to offset the added friction of added rods and crank. The counterweights are offset by an exaggerated amount to reduce weight, which is said to be similar to an equally powerful gas engine. The counter-rotating shafts offer another benefit in this vertical outboard marine application: no inertial load trying to “steer” the engine. The 800cc (80mm “square” bore and stroke) DOHC 8-valve common-rail DI engine make 54 hp and 89 lb-ft. The concept is also being developed for a motorcycle (and yes, it’d be the only diesel bike out there too).

FEV P-REX1 Hybrid Transmission

Engineering consultancy FEV takes a swing at a simpler Chevrolet Volt transmission that provides two-speed electric drive with a range extender that can also connect to the road for parallel drive. Like GM’s Voltec system, it uses one planetary gearset, but rearranges what connects to what. The electric motor connects to the ring gear, the engine can be clutched to the sun gear (Voltec reverses those), and the carrier drives the wheels. Lock the sun for low-speed electric drive, then open it and lock the planetary gearset together for high range. When the engine comes on, it can provide charging, creep, or torque. The system is said to be simple, light, and robust, and is undergoing development in a vehicle for an as yet unnamed European OEM.

Ricardo TorqStor Flywheel

It’s finally here! The flywheel kinetic-energy recovery system will hit the road—er, offroad—very soon, in construction equipment. It will store excess hydraulic energy electrically. The beauty of this system is that it does away with the thorniest problem facing flywheel storage systems: bearings that must maintain a vacuum. Ricardo’s system is sealed at the factory, with all energy being fed into and drawn out of the carbon-fiber composite flywheel via electromagnets. Maximum speed is 44,000 rpm, with a 22:1 gear reduction. If/when the bearings ever fail, the system can be removed and exchanged, cartridge style, in a matter of minutes. It’s scalable between 300 kilojoules (pictured) and as much as 4.5 megajoules, by lengthening the flywheel. The system is said to be way smaller than gas-spring accumulator hydraulic energy-storage systems, and safer and more environmentally friendly than battery and ultra-capacitor storage, with a much shorter payback period (two years, versus five-plus for ultra-caps). Ricardo claims a 10 percent fuel savings, which can amount to $50,000/year, assuming 12 hours of daily use. And yes, Ricardo claims the F1 folks are talking to them too.

Delphi Engine-Off Evaporator

Auto-start-stop systems are becoming ubiquitous, with most offering a button to defeat the system. Folks tend to press that button in the summer when they start sweating at long red lights because the A/C compressor has stopped turning. Delphi displayed a much less costly alternative to electrifying the compressor: A phase-change evaporator. Special paraffin wax occupying a section at the top of the evaporator starts to melt as the refrigerant temperature rises. This absorbs heat and sets up a thermo-siphon effect that keeps the refrigerant moving even with the compressor off, so the refrigerant continues to cool and dry the air blowing over the evaporator for up to 2 minutes. The system increases the height of the evaporator about 20 percent, and the cost is far less than an electric compressor. The technology is under development for a vehicle expected to hit the road in 2015.

Twintec B-NOx Ammonia Generator

In the quest to meet ever tightening diesel emissions, Twintec suggests moving the Ad-Blue dosing out of the downstream exhaust pipe, up close to the engine to generate pure gaseous ammonia for introduction into the exhaust much more quickly after a cold-start. It does this by siphoning a small amount of ultra-hot exhaust upstream of the turbo to convert the AdBlue agent into pure ammonia (with the help of an electric heating element for cold-starts). This eliminates problems of low cold AdBlue evaporation cooling the exhaust and threatening light-off, evaporation, and spray hitting the walls of the exhaust and not converting entirely to ammonia. Total NOx reduction over various test cycles range from 69-94 percent. For a 2.0-liter passenger car engine, the unit measures just under 8 inches long by 3-inches in diameter and weighs 3.5 pounds. Production for larger-engine applications begins later this year.

JSP Expanded Polypropylene Seat Foam

This ultra-skinny seat foam insert looks like Styrofoam and feels as light, but it’s reportedly tough enough to withstand decades and miles of sitting and wriggling. By forming stiffening ridges in the individual backrest slats, the material is strong enough to negate the need for support wires between the side-frame rails, greatly simplifying seat design for the manufacturer. I test-sat a Mazda3 seat updated with the new, lighter foam, and it felt amply supportive and just cushy enough. The material reduces weight by an impressive 77 percent, but today’s seat foam isn’t too massive to start with, so per-car savings are pegged at around 13 pounds. The real magic is in the engineering simplification. Look for this patent-pending material to appear first in rear bench seatbacks, within a year.

Caroplast Sandwich Board

This one doesn’t advertise gold pawning or meatball subs, but it could soon serve as your spare-tire well cover or trailer walls. Caroplast has been making an extruded polypropylene “fluted” board with long continuous cells for this purpose. It resists bending really well perpendicular to these cells, much less so parallel to them. This new board stands those little hex cells on end like a beehive honeycomb and sandwiches them between plastic for excellent compression strength and uniform bending strength in all directions. Sandwich the plastic cells between thin aluminum sheets and you could have a light, strong wall for semi-trailers. Kentucky-based Caroplast is exploring opportunities for the new product, which is production ready.

Visteon Horizon

Visteon’s Horizon cockpit envisions a day when the climate controls no longer must live behind the dash, but rather are relocated underhood or under the floor, getting the vehicle structure out of people’s faces. This concept places a giant screen with four active quadrants. The HMI is a hybrid of hand gestures, voice, and touch pad. To initiate gesture controls, the driver holds an open hand, palm down, above the center console. Cameras (below or more likely above) register the hand and indicated it on the screen. Point to which quadrant, and then a leather-covered touch pad within easy reach allows control. You can also say “knob, fan” and the screen will show a big knob, after which a hand gesture turning it up or down adjusts the fan (or volume, or radio tuning, or whatever). The screen has two layers separated by a few millimeters, that ends up looking like there’s a half-inch of depth, for interesting effects. This system is under development with at least one OEM.

Visteon HM-Eye

One step before mind control might be eye control. Infrared cameras at about AC vent level perceive the driver’s eyes and determine precisely where they are looking. Menu items on the central I/P or console screens become highlighted when you make eye contact—even for a momentary glance—at which point you use a touchpad on the steering wheel spoke to activate said menu, continuing to drill down with eye contact. You can also look at a spot on a map and zoom in on it. This one’s still in the development phase, and some bi- and tri-focal glasses present problems for the cameras. The technology can be used to turn the dash display red if the system perceives that you’ve been staring at it for too long, and it can inform driver-assistance programs as to where the driver’s focus is. As a safety/security feature, it could also be used to identify the driver and allow or prevent access to navigation info like “home” address, so valet attendants can’t rob you blind during a long dinner—and should said derelict valet steal the car, it can send images of the driver to authorities.

Visteon Oasis

This connectivity demonstrator seeks to connect car and driver to the cloud seamlessly via whichever “pipe” provides the best/most economical pathway—4G, WiFi, cellular 3G, whatever. It also connects a low-energy Bluetooth device (like a key fob) with the cloud, which can be especially useful for car-sharing. The car is constantly learning. It monitors fuel economy over time, and queries various systems if consumption trends upward to determine the cause. It records failed voice-commands and feeds info back to system designers who can solve problems and push upgrades through to the car over the airwaves.

IAV Quality Controlled Gasoline

IAV Quality Controlled Gasoline
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