Transport Committee - Plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy?Written evidence from Stephen Harding

I am acting as an individual eager to see the Committee adopt the bulletted resolutions set out herewith in the public interest.

My primary focus is on simple game-changing positive-displacement engine technology better able to exploit lean combustion. So a brief word on this first.

In reciprocating piston engines (RPE) the pistons move in straight radial paths intersecting the axis of the crankshaft. A circular rotor mounted on the output shaft turned by purely local tangential forces is a more attractive alternative. Applying force to fixed vane extensions is logically and demonstrably far superior to any RPE crank+crankshaft arrangement. Archimedes would concur.

My idea—quite unlike the Wankel—is achievable with a circular rotor rotating inside a concentric housing. A plurality of diametrically-opposite variable-volume chambers are formed for the expansion and expulsion of gases, bounded by the fixed-vane faces, housing, rotor surface and novel partitioning means through which the non-sliding vanes transit without let or hindrance. Concurrent induction+compression strokes are followed by concurrent power+expulsion strokes. All vanes are double-acting. Four (4) power strokes per rotor per rev. is on offer. Extra bolt-on rotor modules open up many other possibilities.

A current focus of the auto industry is on 3-cylinder 4-stroke engines of about 1,000 cc displacement, eg the VW’s Up one or Ford’s 1 litre “EcoBoost” engine. My ultra-simple compact technology promises at least double the torque based on the same quoted displacement and brake mean effective pressure (BMEP) figures. So the same power output is promised at lower revs. or with lower average piston face pressures. Cleaner emissions too.

As the torque-arm is constant, ignition does not need to start as in RPEs prior to top dead centre (tdc). Low-cost (solenoid) electronic fuel injection is easily provided for. HCCi (homogenous charge compression ignition) too. The fuel burn is expected to be more complete than with RPEs leading to lower CO2/km output on that score alone.

No reciprocating masses, no balancing needs, no camshaft(s), lighter weight, greater reliability, and lower production costs should be very appealing. However getting the auto industry to accept any disruptive technology may come to a David & Goliath spat. Annual losses may though concentrate minds.

I note Professor Rod Smith has recently been appointed Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Transport “to provide engineering wisdom to politicians and Whitehall mandarins”. He may be unable to make a recommendation to DfT in respect of any particular technology—nor should a technical endorsement of anything not first bench-tested be expected—but I think the Select Committee would certainly benefit from his general opinions. A light grilling rather than a full “Spanish Inquisition” roasting from Louise Ellman should suffice. I have already offered to show him computer animations and may even have a proper physical model to hand sooner rather than later to run on compressed air at BMEP pressures. Of course it’s all about materials, tolerances, volumetric efficiency, thermal efficiency, etc. And thinking the unthinkable.

If the Government wants to increase the number and uptake of energy from plug-in charging points then the plug-in grants should be extended to include vehicle purchases irrespective of whether the vehicle has an electric battery and electric motor or not. (Obviously any vehicle will need to comply with E.C. crashworthiness directives.)

There is little incentive to develop other-technology powertrains if DfT/OLEV can only say that potentially they might qualify with absolutely no degree of certainty. Energy can be stored on-board in phase-change materials or flywheels, their own energy source being electricity. Steam and heat-direct-to-electricity should not be overlooked either. It’s time DfT/OLEV started making connections.

If the Government wants “zero tailpipe emissions” at all times then there should be stronger incentives to encourage this with, say, a minimum achievable range of 200 miles deliverable from one stop for electricity rewarded. Again, if OLEV does not try to stifle innovation by, say, suggesting only one anaemic charger can be deployed or a “single-charge range” is specified, then we will see such vehicles. But probably not with heavy expensive toxic Li-ion batteries. They make no sense.

A good way to encourage the development of low carbon vehicles in U.K. would be to offer a £10 million. prize for the best commercially-viable powertrain with nobody barred from entering, all entries submitted anonymously, and the result decided on purely technical merit by a lay panel appointed by, say, the Royal Society. Disbursement of the cash prize can still be within the European State Aid Rules—and should be to prevent the “usual suspects” making off with the spoils; the balance going to runners-up. (A winner should have no difficulty raising matching funding if required after being proclaimed winner.)

The money in the EC FP7 fund for “eco-innovations” should be accessible to worthy U.K. applicants, including non-SMEs, and not solely through the DfT/OLEV/Technology Strategy Board route with onerous application eligibility conditions to meet, often a complete turn-off.

Finally let’s have a level playing field with say a 2013 target of 60g/km CO2 as a particularly well-rewarded milestone for any vehicle including hybrids. What better way to encourage genuine competition and get the volume manufacturers to embrace outside technologies that can deliver when their own heavily-subsidised efforts can’t?

P.S. Hydrogen and rotary engines are a match made in heaven as I have long been saying. Thus it should be no surprise that one of the three winners of DOE’s “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” Challenge won with a hydrogen-assisted lean burn engine.

April 2012

Prepared 20th September 2012