Tech Briefs Create the Future Contest

Tech Briefs is the publishing arm of SAE international and publishes NASA Tech Briefs, Automotive Engineering and more. They are holding their annual Create the Future Design Contest and we have entered the Clarke-Brayton Engine! There’s a lot of competition on there, so we need your help! Please register and vote.  I know registration is a pain, it will really help us out! Here’s the link:

http://contest.techbriefs.com/2016/entries/automotive-transportation/6431-0422-230756-a-highly-efficient-compact-and-affordable-engine-for-use-with-diesel-or-natural-gas

Team in LB SMALL

A Highly Efficient, Compact and Affordable Engine

After months of analyzing test data, improving simulation code to better reflect what’s happening in the real engine and some design improvements, The ultimate performance of the Clarke-Brayton engine keeps getting clearer – and for the first time we can confirm that it can do all of this while meeting stringent NOx emissions standards using conventional aftertreatment systems.

A recent design improvement from the mind of Chief Scientist and inventor John Clarke improves power density even further:

On the left is a 359 horsepower Clarke-Brayton V6 compared to a 325 horsepower Cummins 6.7L on the right

On the left is a 359 horsepower Clarke-Brayton V6 compared to a 325 horsepower Cummins 6.7L on the right

Above is a comparison of a Clarke-Brayton Engine in a V6 configuration on the left putting out 359 horsepower compared to a 325 horsepower Cummins 6.7L I6 – both engines are compared at the same mean piston speed. In addition to the clear advantage we have in size and weight, the reduced amount of material will also reduce cost.  Further, the Clarke-Brayton Engine is naturally aspirated so the expense of turbos and aftercoolers are eliminated and only 1/3 the number of fuel injectors are required leading to considerable cost benefits.

A naturally aspirated engine has dramatically improved transient response, meaning when you depress the accelerator, the engine responds with more power and speed immediately, eliminating the so-called “turbo lag” suffered by virtually all conventional diesels.

The engine also shows a remarkably flat torque curve and extremely efficient operation at all conditions, as shown in the indicated thermal efficiency map below.

Indicated Thermal Efficiency Map of the Clarke-Brayton Engine

Indicated Thermal Efficiency Map of the Clarke-Brayton Engine

Peak indicated thermal efficiency is 59% (for you engine nerds out there, this includes gas exchange/pumping losses). More impressive is that efficiency remains well above 53% even in low-load, low speed conditions where vehicles spend most of their time operating.

Our friction model predicts peak brake thermal efficiency at near 55%, compared to 42% for today’s best automotive diesels.

This engine promises to have great benefit to a number of applications including heavy-duty and medium-duty trucking, automotive, marine and power generation. It’s ability to use natural gas as a compression-ignition fuel – the subject of a future post – further increases its attractiveness in a number of segments.  We’ve been talking to a number of interested potential strategic partners and are excited about finding the perfect relationship to help propel this technology to market.

Testing of MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine Yields Excellent Results

After many months and modifications to get the engine running smoothly we are finally getting great data!  Not only is the data itself high-quality but they are showing that the engine is performing excellently.  I wish I could present the detailed data, but unfortunately it is still confidential, but here is a chart of pressure vs. crank angle of all three cylinders with the units removed from the axes:

Crank Angle vs. Pressure in the MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine. The circles and triangles are every 5th data point taken from running the engine. The solid lines are the predicted results from the computer simulation.

Crank Angle vs. Pressure in the MkII Clarke-Brayton Engine. The circles and triangles are every 5th data point taken from running the engine. The solid lines are the predicted results from the computer simulation.

We’ve run the engine for up to 30 minutes continuously at full-power.  We’ve learned that the engine is in fact extremely efficient, cooling the engine is not nearly as big of a challenge as we thought it might be and that we can improve even further on our current design.

Since the beginning of the MkII project in October 2013 we have spent just $800k covering ALL expenses.  I’d like to see any other engine company be so cash-efficient! If we can accomplish this much with so few resources, just imagine what we will do when we raise significant funds and engage with world-class strategic partners.

Here’s a video from one of our longer-duration test runs.

3D Printing Combustion Pistons

My last post was about the machining of our “low pressure” pistons.  Our combustion pistons start out with a very different kind of fabrication process: Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).  It is a kind of 3D printing.  Believe it or not, finding a short, entertaining video about DMLS is difficult.  So instead please enjoy the least annoying video about the process I could find:

Here is what the parts look like just after printing.

HP Piston Apr 1 #2 AS PRINTED

This had to be printed because there are some internal cooling passages inside of them that traditional machining cannot make.  In mass production this is handled by making them in two parts and then friction-welding the two halves together.  For just two prototypes, that is not economical, thus we went with DMLS.  There is still a lot of machining and grinding to do before the pistons are done.  Eventually, they will look like this:

HP Piston RenderEdit: Here is a finished piston next to one of the blanks!

Finished piston next to printed blank.

Finished piston next to printed blank.

 

Piston Machining

Austin Jones at J.H. Benedict has been very nice to send us several pictures of our 4340 steel exhaust pistons throughout the manufacturing process. They are almost finished. There is still some grinding to do and some machining on the crown.  You can see they did the turning operations first on the lathe, and then machined out the inside of the piston. Bushings for the wrist pin will be machined and ground out of a bronze alloy and pressed in later.

4340 steel billet for the piston beginning the process.

4340 steel billet for the piston beginning the process.

First turning operations for the piston are complete.

First turning operations for the piston are complete.

Machining processes on the piston.

Machining processes on the piston.

Roughing out the inside of the piston on the mill.

Roughing out the inside of the piston on the mill.

The piston is nearing completion!

The piston is nearing completion! Lands and grooves are still to be ground, and the crown is still to be machined. Bushings will be pressed in later.

 

Have all the important inventions already been invented?

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled “Economists Debate: Has All the Important Stuff Already Been Invented?” documents the arguments of two economists at Northwestern University.  Robert Gordon, the more famous of the two and someone who commands $20,000 per speaking engagement argues that all the inventions that can have a major improvement in standard of living have been made and as a consequence, the average growth rate in the U.S. will stabilize at half its historic rate of 2%.  Joel Mokyr takes the opposite position and points out that this same prediction has been made repeatedly over the last 150 years and it has always been wrong.

Thomas Edison - the greatest inventor of all time.

Thomas Edison – the greatest inventor of all time.

I must say I agree with Mokyr.  Gordon makes the argument that past inventions such as electricity had direct positive impacts on people’s  lives whereas new energy technologies should not be counted the same way since they are merely mitigating damage from previous technological innovation rather than directly improving lives. I think this is a very short-sighted analysis.  Looking at energy, the west has been dependent on countries that are hostile towards them for energy but at the same time desire the west’s money.  Today it is more clear than ever that this relationship has plunged the west into numerous wars where thousands of lives are routinely lost and an enormous drag is put onto the economy.  Our lives are so dependent on the energy we get from these volatile regions of the world that markets boom and bust with every hint of trouble or stability. Technologies like horizontal drilling, fracking and our Clarke-Brayton engine can eliminate our dependence on hostile powers for energy, ending the need for massive loss of life and continuous strains on our economy.  These technologies are directly and massively impacting the lives of all Americans.

Gordon rates the internet as a relatively low-importance invention, often asking people what would they rather give up, their iphone or the flush toilet and he says that smart phones are just a minor improvement over the original telephone.  But how many times have you heard people say, “What did I ever do before smart phones?”.  Smart phones are not just portable telephones.  They are a portal for instant access to virtually all human knowledge that you carry in your pocket.  You can get answers to questions as mundane as where is the nearest gas station or as obscure as what were the traditions of the Mayans to mark the summer solstice.  In the past information that required days of planning and trips to university libraries can now be obtained in seconds from the moment you realize you want to know it. The implications for business, governance, technological innovation and simple personal satisfaction cannot be exaggerated.  If I had to choose between giving up smartphones or the convenience of the flush toilet, I would give up the flush toilet.

The only way the U.S. will be able to continue to improve quality of life for the lower and middle classes will be through innovation. Our current standard of living has advanced to the point that industrial manufacturing jobs for all but the most complex products are often not sufficient to maintain Americans in the style to which they have become accustomed.  Entrepreneurship, science and technology driving new technologies and new industries is our best chance for continuing to grow our economy and improve our lot.