In terms of combustion engines, you’ve usually got two choices: traditional (pistons, crankshafts and cylinders) or the Wankel 0r Rotary Engine. Both use a combustible fuel/air mix that is compressed and ignited, applying torque to a central crankshaft. A limitation of these motors is the speed at which they can turn, since they rely on so many moving parts. This boundary leads to the need for weighty transmissions and cooling systems.
Thanks to a completely out-of-left-field design by Michigan State University, it may be possible to get a 60% fuel-to-movement ratio, compared to the current combustion engine that gets ~15%. Along with the small size (it’s roughly the size of a saucepot) and no need for transmissions, cooling systems or emissions, the weight reduction alone means good news for fuel economy. Hit up the break to read more:
The Shockwave Engine is a departure from the current combustion engine much in the way the rotary engine was.
The grooves in the engine’s rotor contain a fuel and air mixture that is brought in from the center. As the sections spin, that mixture is compressed- creating the shockwave -and ignited, supplying more torque directly to the driveshaft with exhaust exiting on the outsides.
This engine, while magical is still in the developmental phase. Norbert Müller, the researcher at MSU, has high hopes for the engine, stating that the drastic weight reduction (due to the fact that this engine needs no camshafts, pistons or valves) as well as the high fuel efficiency will dramatically help mileage numbers in future cars.
Currently, the engine is aimed at hybrid vehicles. This is the most logical, as the small engine could probably not stand up to the huge torque requirements of an F-350. Yet if you attach this bad boy to a generator, you’ve got an extremely efficient motor that is quick at charging your batteries, keeping that Chevy Volt-style hybrid on the road for longer.
Popular Science (image credit): http://www.popsci.com/cars/article/2011-03/shockwave-generating-wave-discs-could-replace-cars-internal-combustion-engines
New Scientist (image credit): http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20928035.100-shock-wave-puts-hybrid-engines-in-a-spin.html