The basic design of the internal combustion engine has not changed much in the last 100-something years. I think its time for a change, and the disk wave engine could be the answer to a future free of combustion engines.

To power any combustion engine you need fuel, air, and either compression or spark to cause an explosion that provides the moving power most of us rely on. The wave disk engine is no different, as it combines air, fuel, and compression to produce power. Developed by researchers at the University of Michigan (EDIT: It is Michigan State University), this small engine could be up to 3.5 times more efficient than the piston-driven engines found in most cars. How? Well the engine does away with those heavy pistons and replaces them with a single disk with small channels carved out to carry air and fuel…any fuel, from hydrogen to gas to biodiesel. The inside and outside edges of the disk alternately open and close to combine the air and fuel, and shockwaves produced from the rotation of the disk compress and ingite the combination. By hooking the engine up to a generator, you can produce electricity to feed the motor, while getting almost four times better gas mileage and producing 95% less carbon dioxides.

Image: The New Scientist

Considering that today’s most advanced, expensive, and efficient combustion engines only put out between 15% and 40% tops of the energy (fuel) put into them, an improvement of 3.5 times more efficiency would mean more power and more miles-per-gallon from an engine that is 20% smaller and estimated to cost just $500 for a unit large enough to power a car. And since I’m sure somebody will mention this, turbine engines can achieve up to 70% energy efficiency….but I don’t think the average person wants to drive a jet (I do but I’m nuts.) The U.S. alone burns through something like 19 million barrels of oil per day, so we’re wasting anywhere from 60% to 85% of that potential energy. Imagine if we could harness most of that wasted energy?

Why we’d use a fraction of the oil we do, saving money, natural resources, and the air we breathe. And this wave disk engine could be an important step towards seriously cutting back on our oil usage. Of course, there is a catch (as there always is.) The engine is only most effective at high RPMs, meaning that it has the same problem as turbine cars; namely, acceleration sucks. But it could provide more than enough electricity to an electric motor, serving as a much cheaper range extender than your typical detuned combustion engine. Between this and the Opposed Piston Opposed Cylinder (OPOC) engine, there might yet be a future for combustion-type engines. The researchers from the University of Michigan already have a working prototype, and they hope to have a car-sized wave disk engine completed by the end of the year. Whether or not that engine will cost more than $500 remains to be seen, though I might even have a few cars I could donate to the cause…as long as I get to keep the finished product.

Source: The New Scientist

Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.