A New Look at an Old Engine

Contrary to popular belief, the combustion engine isn't dead.

- Combustion engines are incredibly inefficient.

- Some engineers are looking into ways to recover wasted energy.

To hear some people tell it, the internal combustion engine is dead. Some engineers aren't so sure. We'll check it out. Today, on Engineering Works! Listen to the podast.

Just about everybody knows a little about internal combustion engines. They're what powers almost all of our cars, trucks and motorcycles. They've been around for more than a hundred years, and they're boring.

They're also really inefficient. Only about a quarter of the energy in fuel actually turns the wheels and takes us down the highway.

The rest, mostly heat, is just wasted. Engineers are looking into some nifty ways to get that wasted energy back.

One group of British engineers are working on a tiny turbine that would fit in the tailpipe. Exhaust from the engine would spin the turbine. It would drive a little electric generator that would go back to the battery to power the car's electrical systems. This should cut fuel consumption by 15 percent, they say.

Other engineers are looking into what happens when they connect a flywheel to the transmission. When you hit the brakes, the flywheel collects energy from the wheels and stores it. If you need more power, the flywheel puts the energy back to the driveshaft. They say it's more efficient than conventional hybrid cars.

There are a lot of pretty far out ideas out there, and some of them may actually work.

We've recovered about all the energy we're going to, and we're done. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

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