Shockwave-generated motion

I wrote a series of articles a year or two ago about alternative fuels. In that time that has gone by, it doesn’t seem that much has changed, except that our cars still gobble up petrol and diesel, and that the cost of said fuels keeps going through the roof. On top of that, no new hydrogen fuel-cell or vegetable oil/algae-petrol driven cars have shown up on the market. The status quo continues as pathetic as ever.

Still, I’m not one to give up hope too easily, so I keep my eyes and ears peeled for new fuels and technology that will make cars all the more sensible. And the latest instalment in this thrilling storyline is an engine that makes motion through shock waves. It’s called the Wave Disk Engine, and was developed by a team headed by Prof. Norbert Mueller at Michigan State University in the USA (and quite some time ago), and works on a very different principle in relation to a conventional piston-driven internal combustion engine.

As the rotor spins, the channels allow an air-fuel mixture to enter via central inlet ports. The mixture would escape through the outlet ports in the walls of the surrounding chamber, but by now the rotor has turned to a position where the channels are not pointing at the outlets.

The resulting sudden build-up of pressure in the chamber generates a shock wave that travels inwards, compressing the air-fuel mixture as it does so. Just before the wave reaches the central inlet ports, these too are shut off by the turning of the rotor.

The compressed mixture is then ignited. By this time the rotor’s channels are pointing towards the outlet ports again, releasing the hot exhaust. As the gas escapes at high speed, it pushes against the blade-like ridges inside the rotor, keeping it spinning and generating electricity.

So it’s really a sort of hybrid, since it generates electricity. The efficiency is up to 3.5 times more efficient than common ICEs (normal cars only manage to actually make use of 15% of what they burn, while this uses some 60%), and could lower current car emissions by some 90%. It’s also much lighter than common engines.

Hopefully there will be a working prototype by the end of the year (though only with a measly 25kW, or some 34hp), and we’ll have taken another gigantic step for proper, efficient, greener cars.

For what they’re worth, my personal thoughts on the potential of this solution is related to how this could tie in with other possible solutions. Will this be able to use biofuels? Or hydrogen, for that matter? A great advantage would be if it were retro-fittable, where you could remove the old engine and put to or three of these wave disks in the engine bay, along with the necessary batteries and such.


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