Sunday, October 23, 2011

Increase Efficiency with the Wave Disk Engine

I took a few minutes out of work one day last week to watch Maggie Koerth-Baker's presentation at the Future Tense energy conference. Lucky for you, she's posted the text and accompanying graphs on Slate, so you can read it instead of wading through the video.

Essentially, she wanted to take a look at what U.S. energy use would look like in 2030, and came to the conclusion that rather than being startlingly different (in either a good or bad way), it would be kind of boring.

A key change, though, was the need to decrease overall energy use, which will lead to decreases in oil and coal use, while natural gas and solar/wind/alternative energy use will go up a bit, though not tremendously.

Maggie Koerth-Baker's 2030 stacking bar chart, comparing that year if types of energy use is unchanged, vs modest changes in efficiency and type of fuel

Norbert Müller with a model of the wave disk engine
The most recent Discover magazine included an article describing a range of energy solutions in development. One that was listed is the wave disk engine, which could be an important part of that decrease in energy use. This is what the writer, Elizabeth Svoboda, had to say about it:
Inside your car's engine, combustion gases expand as gasoline is burned, creating force that drives a piston. It is an effective system, but it converts only about 15 percent of fuel energy into propulsion. Michigan State mechanical engineer Norbert Müller aims to do far better with his wave disk engine, in which a rotating wheel sucks fuel and air into small internal channels. As the wheel spins, ports on the outer rim of the engine block the fuel-air mixture from flowing out of the channels. The blockage creates shock waves, and the resulting pressure helps the fuel to ignite, pushing against curved blades on the disk and causing it to spin. Müller says his engine has the potential to be 60 percent efficient. He hopes to finish a prototype large enough to power an SUV by next year.
Other parts of the article described an MIT scientist working on a utility-scale battery and advances in growing algae as a biofuel.

Koerth-Baker has a book in the works that I'll have to read as soon as it comes out: Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us. It's due in April 2012 from Wiley.

1 comment:

Jeff Crunk said...

I enjoyed reading this post. My concern with the looming and potentially catastrophic energy crisis is that innovations such as this will fall victim to path deteriminacy, which in energy is complete market dominance by fossil fuels. If the wave engine does threaten dramatic reductions in fuel consumption than we will again see the FF sector attempt to kill the threat to its business model, which depends on profligate fuel consumption. It will purchase the patent or take other measures to insulate their market dominance. They have done this before with electric transportation.