• Aug 24th 2007 at 10:36AM
  • 13
We've talked about homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engines in the past, particularly how their complex process of producing energy equals that of a diesel in terms of efficiency, while not requiring expensive exhaust after-treatment systems to clean up emissions. Billed as the ideal marriage of gas and diesel engines, HCCI up until now has been a lab rat, commented on by MIT researchers and existing only within the controlled confines of a research center.

General Motors flexed its R&D muscle today by showing off two HCCI prototype vehicles, a Saturn Aura and Opel Vectra, both powered by 180-hp, 2.2L Ecotec HCCI engines. Like a diesel, these engines ignite an air/fuel mixture through compression, not a spark. What's produced is a "low-temperature, flameless release of energy throughout the entire combustion chamber." Since the HCCI cycle needs heat to operate, these engines do run on spark ignition until the air in their cylinders and the exhaust catalyst heat up. They can then run in HCCI mode up to 55 mph. The transmission between the two modes at this point is noticeable, but GM says it will be as seamless as its cylinder deactivation technology eventually. In addition to running in HCCI mode, the engines are also fitted with the latest advanced technology like direct injection, electric cam phasing, variable valve lift, and cylinder pressure sensing. The end result is a solid 15% improvement in fuel economy while meeting the day's emissions standards without the need for exotic exhaust treatment systems.

The real benefit of HCCI seems to be its compatibility with current engine architectures and ability to run on everyday fuel, including E85. Today's demo shows that GM has a ways to go in making HCCI commercially viable, but hats off to the General for being out in front on this one.

[Source: GM]



PONTIAC, Mich – Engine experts have dreamt about it, talked about it and lectured about it, and today – for the first time – General Motors is letting outside parties drive the "most awaited advanced combustion technology" of the past 30 years.

GM demonstrated the combustion process, known formally as homogeneous charge compression ignition, or HCCI, for the first time in two driveable concept vehicles, a 2007 Saturn Aura and Opel Vectra. When combined with the enabling advanced technologies such as direct injection, electric cam phasing, variable valve lift and cylinder pressure sensing, HCCI provides up to a 15-percent fuel savings, while meeting current emissions standards.

"I remember debating the limits of combustion capability when I was in college," said Tom Stephens, group vice president, GM Powertrain and Quality. "HCCI was just a dream then. Today, using math-based predictive analysis and other tools, we are beginning to see how we can make this technology real. By combining HCCI with other advanced gasoline engine and control technologies we can deliver a good fuel savings value for consumers.

In an integrated engine concept, HCCI, along with other enabling advanced technologies, approaches the engine efficiency benefit of a diesel, but without the need for expensive lean NOx after-treatment systems. Its efficiency comes from burning fuel at lower temperatures and reducing the heat energy lost during the combustion process. Consequently, less carbon dioxide is released because the vehicle's operation in HCCI mode is more efficient.

The HCCI-powered concept vehicles – a production-based Saturn Aura and the Opel Vectra, both with a modified 2.2L Ecotec four-cylinder engine – drive like conventionally powered vehicles, but offer up to 15 percent improved fuel efficiency relative to a comparable port fuel-injected engine. (This fuel efficiency improvement will vary depending on the vehicle application and the customer driving cycle.) The driveable concept vehicles represent some of the first tangible demonstrations of HCCI technology outside of the laboratory.

"I am pleased with our engineering team's progress," said Stephens. "It is another initiative in GM's advanced propulsion technology strategy to lessen our dependence on oil. HCCI, direct-injection and variable valve timing and lift all help improve the fuel economy and performance of our internal
combustion engines. I am confident that HCCI will one day have a place within our portfolio of future fuel-saving technologies."

Highlights of HCCI technology include:
  • Diesel-like engine efficiency with substantially reduced after-treatment cost
  • Builds off proven gasoline direct-injection and variable valve actuation technologies
  • Adaptable to conventional gasoline engine architectures
  • Requires only conventional automotive exhaust after-treatment
  • Compatible with all commercially available gasoline and E85 ethanol fuels.
How HCCI works

An HCCI engine ignites a mixture of fuel and air by compressing it in the cylinder. Unlike a spark ignition gas engine or diesel engine, HCCI produces a low-temperature, flameless release of energy throughout the entire combustion chamber. All of the fuel in the chamber is burned simultaneously. This produces power similar to today's conventional gas engines, but uses less fuel to do it. Heat is a necessary enabler for the HCCI process, so a traditional spark ignition is used when the engine is started cold to generate heat within the cylinders and quickly heat up the exhaust catalyst and enable
HCCI operation. During HCCI mode, the mixture's dilution is comparatively lean, meaning there is a larger percentage of air in the mixture. The lean operation of HCCI helps the engine approach the efficiency of a diesel, but it requires only a conventional automotive exhaust after-treatment. Diesel engines require more elaborate and more expensive after-treatment to reduce emissions.

HCCI builds on the integration of other advanced engine technologies – some of which are already in production and can be adapted to existing gas engines. The cylinder compression ratio is similar to a conventional direct-injected gas engine and is compatible with all commercially available gasoline and E85 fuels.

The prototype vehicles

GM demonstrated the adaptation of the HCCI technology in driveable concept vehicles based on conventional, production-based products like the Saturn Aura and Opel Vectra. The Aura features an automatic transmission; the Vectra, which is aimed at the European market, has a manual transmission. Both vehicles are powered by a 2.2-liter Ecotec engine (180 horsepower [134 kW] and 170 lb.-ft [230 Nm] of torque) that features a central direct-injection system, with variable valve lift on both the intake and exhaust sides, dual electric camshaft phasers and individual cylinder pressure transducers to control the combustion as well as deliver a smooth transition between combustion modes.

A sophisticated controller, using cylinder pressure sensors and GM-developed control algorithms, manages the HCCI combustion process, as well as the transition between HCCI combustion and conventional spark-ignition combustion. The transition between the combustion processes is notable in the demonstration prototypes, but production versions are intended to deliver an imperceptible transition while driving, similar to the deactivation performance of GM's Active Fuel Management system.

Currently, the GM demonstration prototypes can operate on HCCI up to approximately 55 mph, transitioning to spark ignition at higher vehicle speeds and during heavy engine load. An extended range for HCCI operation is intended as further refinements to the control system and engine hardware are made. "Perhaps the biggest challenge of HCCI is controlling the combustion process," said Prof. Dr. Uwe Grebe, executive director for GM Powertrain Advanced Engineering. "With spark ignition, you can adjust the timing and intensity of the spark, but with HCCI's flameless combustion, you need to change the mixture composition and temperature in a complex and timely manner to achieve comparable performance."

GM's global HCCI team will continue to refine the technology in the wide range of driving conditions experienced around the globe, from extreme heat and cold to the thin air effects of driving at high altitude. "Although our development costs for HCCI have been substantial, we have made tremendous strides in bringing this most awaited combustion technology out of the lab and onto the test track with the Saturn Aura and Opel Vectra vehicles. Additional development costs, including research and testing programs, are required to make the technology ready for the great variety of driving conditions that customers experience," said Prof. Grebe.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      Since GM is doing this I am inclined to dismiss it. I'm sure Toyota is going to have an HCCI car out next year while GM is just talking about it. This is meaningless like the Volt, like the two mode hybrids...........oh wait the two mode hybrids are about to go on sale.

      When the Gm hybrid system was first unveiled the skeptics were out in force and now its a few months from being in showrooms. Same for Volt and I'm sure same for HCCI. Stay tuned, they arent showing this stuff for no reason.
      • 8 Years Ago

      VW has been working on this for a while as well...
      • 8 Years Ago
      I'll take an HCCI eqquiped Saturn Astra.
        • 8 Years Ago
        Good for GM, they are working hard, this is Bob Lutz's influence at work clearly...

        I will take a HCCI engine as long as they strap a turbocharger too it like Benz did. Stick that in the Saturn Astra Redline and I'll gladly buy one just for shhh and giggles.

        Diesels are in our future: VAG and Benz have spent billions on the technology, but this is a prove the standard gas or E85 burning internal combustion engine has PLENTY of life in it.

      • 8 Years Ago
      "The transmission between the two modes at this point is noticeable, but GM says it will be as seamless as its cylinder deactivation technology eventually. "

      I believe you mean "transition".
      • 8 Years Ago
      didn't Mercedes also reveal this same type of technology a few weeks ago.

      I hop eboth are able to come out with it by '09MY
      • 8 Years Ago
      Great design, economy of a diesel and clean exhaust. can wait till this design becomes main stream. In my opinion this is the future of the gasoline engine...
      • 8 Years Ago
      That's a nice little PR story for the General...

      • 8 Years Ago
      It'll never work. We're all doomed. They're never gonna make it.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Honda and Mercedes Benz had working prototypes 3-4 years ago. Honda is concerned with the powerband as the rpms rise HCCI becomes more difficult. Honda is also trying to elimnate the entire ignition system altogether (instead add something like glow plugs to heat the chamber to start the engine) to reduce weight and expense and their engine is able to 30% better mpg than GM's mild HCCI approach. GM is working on this but their goal is a much simpler and less frugal system (just like all their mild hybrids which do not help as much as Honda or Toyota's system). Benz's HCCI car is that fish concept years back.


      • 8 Years Ago
      Yet another example of GM putting their money where their mouth is. GM gets slammed a lot around here for being a technological dinosaur and for not being 'green' enough. GM offers D-O-D, increasing V6 and V8 mileage, that Toyota does not. GM has more E-85 flex fuel capable vehicles available than Toyota. And they have done so with powertrains and emissions systems that cost less to maintain. Yet, becuase of one vehicle, a great marketing department and two generations of gullible saps, they are the 'green' company offering us oh, so many options.
        • 8 Years Ago
        You obviously are hiddiing in GMs closet and trying to clue us in what no one else see's. GM has not yet put this engine on the market, so how do you figure Toyota figures into this? I haven't read one single reference to Toyota and yet you dwell on that company. Talk is cheap and GM does a lot of it.
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