We’ve seen a number of innovations focused on improving the efficiency of hybrid cars. But while most of these new ideas have focused on optimizing battery capacity, here is one new piece of technology that is about to revolutionize the engine itself. Straight from the engineers at Michigan State University, this new ‘wave disk engine’ is 3.5 times more fuel efficient than a conventional combustion engine, can be run on almost any fuel and emits 95% less carbon dioxide.
Wave disk engines are built to be small, light, clean, simple, and cheap. The engine basically uses a disk that spins around super fast, and the disk is affixed with a number of channels that fill up with air and fuel as the rotor spins. Pressure builds up as inlets are blocked off, causing a shock wave within the chamber that ignites the compressed air and fuel. Essentially, as shock waves from the rotation compress and ignite fuel in the channels, the combustion causes the rotor to spin, generating electricity.
According to Michigan State University, the wave disk engine is about 20% lighter than a conventional engine and significantly cheaper to manufacture – a $500 OEM price for a wave disk generator that could power a car. But like all turbine-type engines, the wave disk engine is probably only able to provide high levels of efficiency when it’s at its optimal speed, meaning that it will likely be most useful to apply the technology to charge the batteries of an electric vehicle, rather than to drive the car alone.
Michigan State’s engineers have a prototype wave disk generator in action, and they hope to have a car-sized 25 kilowatt version running by the end of the year. They have also received a sizable $2.5 million from the Department of Energy for their project.