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Summary:

A startup backed by Khosla Ventures called Transonic Combustion has raised another round of $32 million to deliver a more efficient internal combustion engine. How far away is a more efficient internal combustion 2.0?

Transonic Combustion

A six-year-old startup called Transonic Combustion, which is developing more efficient internal combustion engine technology, is scaling up with a new round of $32 million, according to a release on Thursday. The funds came from Khosla Ventures, Venrock, Rustic Canyon and Saints Capital.

Transonic Combustion is creating an efficient fuel injection system for an internal combustion engine that minimizes heat waste. The system involves heating fuel to a “supercritical” state before injecting it into the combustion chamber, allowing it to combust without the need for a spark. The company uses software to precisely adjust the injection based on the engine load.

The system can run an engine that uses both gas and diesel as well as biofuels, and it is supposed to create an engine that is 50 percent more efficient than standard engines. About two years ago Transonic Combustion showed off a demo vehicle with its engine tech that got 64 miles per gallon in highway driving.

The engine is supposed to eventually cost about the same as high-end fuel injection systems currently on the market, and Transonic Combustion has previously stated that it wants to start deploying its engine by 2014.

More efficient traditional engines could be a lower-cost way to reduce carbon emissions from cars before electric vehicles develop into any kind of market. Auto companies will also be looking for more efficient traditional technologies, because fuel standards in the U.S. are set to rise from 27 miles per gallon today to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, thanks to the Obama administration’s plan.

Transonic Combustion is just one of a variety of startups that have emerged in recent years to try to remake the internal combustion engine to optimize efficiency. Other startups include EcoMotors, Pinnacle Engines, and Liquid Piston.

  1. Changing the way fuel combusts does not affect (“minimize”) heat waste. If this new system didn’t need a radiator and the exhaust came out slightly warmer than ambient (like my tankless water heater’s), I’d be impressed.

    Nope, this is just another one of those mythical 100MPG carburetors that the “oil companies will buy to suppress…”

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  2. @Larry, If my guess is correct this system would allow the fuel to be injected near or even at TDC (top dead center) on the compression stroke. This would mean the fuel would not be in the cylinder during compression thus removing the possibility for detonation/premature ignition due to heat and allowing the engine to have a much higher compression ratio (maybe even as much/more than a diesel engine). Having a higher compression ratio would mean more power could be extracted from a smaller mass of fuel/air mixture (the mixture ratio probably doesn’t change) due to higher pressures during combustion. Thus you end up with a more fuel efficient engine and therefore better gas mileage.

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  3. Also they might be able to get away with injecting less fuel since a major problem with a lean fuel/air charge is premature ignition/detonation (due to elevated internal temperatures). And if they can run a leaner ratio (with out detonation) they will end up with higher combustion temperatures and thus higher cylinder pressures. That would mean an increase in the engines power SIMPLY BECAUSE they are decreasing the fuel injected.

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  4. I just followed one of the links in this article http://www.technologyreview.com/news/417918/ultra-efficient-gas-engine-passes-test/ and it actually says the same thing I just did, but it talks about some other effects too

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  5. if its not got EIT( Electrostatic ion thrusters use the Coulomb force and accelerate the ions in the direction of the electric field.) as its efficient fuel injection system then why should we care.

    everyone knows Electrostatic ion Electromagnetic thruster gyro Pulsed inductive thrusters (PIT) are the near future, we need and want a stand alone 5 ” Gaga Wat power plant )to start with) running our cars engines today

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  6. Beware of the efficiency folly (i.e., Jevon’s Paradox). If it’s cheaper to run an individual engine, there will simply be more engines.

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    1. (I neglected to reply to your post separately so I’m doing that now)

      @BrettN – I doubt a change in fuel injection technology is going to cut the price of a car to the point where a household will buy extra cars. Car prices won’t be cut by a huge percentage like laptops going from $2,000 in the 1990s to $500 in the 2000s.

      Direct injection technology is now mainstream. Have car prices dropped dramatically? Nah. Even if a $20,000 car became a $15,000 car thanks to Transonic Combustion, that won’t make people buy two $15,000 cars when they could only afford one $20,000 car.

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  7. if its the same as a high end car, euro sports car, then its not efficient.

    so basically im paying 100k for a car that gives me less milage, in the end its not revolutionary, its just payting for a high end engine like rich people do now.

    screw this comnpany

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    1. @BrettN – I doubt a change in fuel injection technology is going to cut the price of a car to the point where a household will buy extra cars. Car prices won’t be cut by a huge percentage like laptops going from $2,000 in the 1990s to $500 in the 2000s.

      Direct injection technology is now mainstream. Have car prices dropped dramatically? Nah. Even if a $20,000 car became a $15,000 car thanks to Transonic Combustion, that won’t make people buy two $15,000 cars when they could only afford one $20,000 car.

      @screwer – When gigaOM used the term “high-end”, it was referring to “high-end injection systems” not “high end car” so I don’t know why you would jump to the conclusion that this technology would be reserved for $100k cars.

      This technology might not make its production debut on affordable family sedans, but it could reach affordability eventually (efficient turbocharging and direct injection technologies took awhile to reach mass market). Don’t forget that technological advances don’t happen overnight. You can’t expect every advancement in R&D to directly affect you right away. That said, there’s nothing in this article that suggests Transonic Combustion’s technology is likely to be exclusive to rich people.

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  8. In this other article (http://www.technologyreview.com/news/417918/ultra-efficient-gas-engine-passes-test), they mention that the technology requires adding a catalyst to the gasoline. Does that mean the car owner has to stock up on this catalyst? Or does it mean the car owner has to buy a new catalyst reservoir thingy every couple of years?

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  9. Minimizing heat waste in IC engines requires re-architecting engines from large bore, short stroke High rpm engines to undersquare, long stroke, low RPM engines.

    The majority of heat loss comes from larger bores, cylinder head and valve area. Look at the specifications for the engines in Honda’s Fit automobile or NC700X motorcycles to see smaller piston crowns, cylinder heads and valve areas and their effect on heat loss/efficiency.

    While interesting, this technology is like concentrating on the special sauce while skipping the burger. Its part of a complex reenginerring process, but not the whole process.

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