Ford is looking for ways to pack their automobiles with innovative technology that achieves the seemingly impossible goal of using smaller, more efficient engines while still delivering the performance wallop customers are demanding. Not only is the Blue Oval seeking more involvement from their suppliers to push new technology and techniques forward, but the automaker's also looking outside the typical realm of automotive OEMs.
One promising new technology is a system developed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology startup company. Putting a modern-day spin on the concept of water or alcohol injection to either boost octane or cool the cylinder charge (or both), the MIT developed fuel injection system uses direct injection to deliver a shot of ethanol when the engine is under heavy load. The intravenous drip allows turbocharger boost pressure to be cranked way up, adding a significant amount of power gain. Normally, with your wastegate actuators cranked all the way down, you'd discover new and exciting ways to ventilate the crankcase, but this system keeps detonation at bay, which keeps the pistons in the block.

[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req.]

Another MIT-developed technique is switching operating modes between spark ignition (SI) and homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI). HCCI is basically a gasoline engine running like a diesel, using high compression to generate the heat that causes ignition. Sure, any engine can do that if you push it in to preignition, but since HCCI doesn't rely on a single flame front propagating through the cylinder, the combustion temperature is lower, keeping NOx emissions at bay. It also helps that the engine is designed to exploit self-ignition, rather than avoid it at all costs. NOx is the typical bugaboo that rears its head when you're running high combustion temps and pressures - which is what you get with extreme boost pressure or ultra-lean mixtures.

Whether or not these particular technologies end up in Ford engine bays, Ford and its suppliers will gain valuable knowledge. All of the low hanging fruit for boosting the efficiency of engines has long since been harvested, so the future is going to be lots of innovative techniques and out of the box thinking combining to deliver efficiency gains. Ford's strategy for meeting the emissions and performance demands of the future will involve typical automotive suppliers, as well as being amenable to jointly developing new technology, even if it means co-branding. Hey, if the propeller-heads in Cambridge can figure out how to scam Vegas for big money, getting more work out of less engine should be feasible, right?

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