East Lansing, Michigan – A new project underway at Michigan State University could potentially increase vehicle fuel efficiency by replacing the current engine/generator technologies used in hybrid electric systems.

Researchers at the university have received a US$2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a prototype of the new engine and generator technology. The researchers said the project has the potential to increase automotive fuel efficiency by five times compared to internal combustion engine cars on the road today, while reducing costs by 30 per cent. The hyper-efficient engine is about the size of a large cooking pot.

The award will allow a team of engineers and scientists to begin working toward producing a vehicle-size engine/generator, known as a wave disk generator (WDG), during the next two years. The project will build on existing modelling, analysis and lab experimentation already completed. The WDG uses a turbo combustion “shock wave” technique to efficiently convert liquid fuel sources, or gases such as compressed natural gas or hydrogen, to electrical power.

“Our goal is to enable hyper-efficient hybrid vehicles to meet consumer needs for a 500-mile (804 km) driving range, lower vehicle prices, full-size utility, improved highway performance and very low operating costs,” said Norbert Mueller, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and leader of the research team. “The WDG can also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 95 per cent in comparison to modern internal combustion vehicle engines.”

The small, lightweight unit could replace the automotive internal combustion engine, radiator, water pump, fuel/air control, transmission and generator found in modern hybrid vehicles. The result is a hyper-efficient serial hybrid vehicle with very little equipment under the hood.

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