BARCELONA, Spain - The next breakthrough in engine technology will be an electronic valve-control system that can boost fuel economy, a leading European engine researcher says.
Such a system would permit independent valve-by-valve and cylinder-by-cylinder control, said Rinaldo Rinolfi, director of the engine division at the Fiat Research Center in Turin, Italy.
Rinolfi, whom many consider to be the father of the common-rail diesel, spoke at the Automotive News Europe Congress here this month.
Rinolfi, who is known for his pioneering work in developing powertrains, says breakthrough systems are conceptually simple. But they are difficult to develop.
A good example: Rudolf Diesel came up with a perfect definition of the common-rail diesel engine technology in 1912, Rinolfi says. "But we took almost 80 years to make it to production," he adds.
In 2001, BMW introduced an electromechanical engine-management system called Valvetronic. It allows simultaneous control of all cylinders and cuts fuel consumption by almost 8 percent over a conventional system.
But Rinolfi favors an electrohydraulic valve control system that would permit valve-by-valve and cylinder-by-cylinder control. This would generate fuel savings of as much as 12 percent over conventional systems.
"Reducing fuel consumption is the main driver in gasoline engine technology research," Rinolfi says.
The Fiat executive said gasoline engines, which have been steadily shedding market share to diesels in Europe, have many options to recover lost ground.
Gasoline engines need to offer more torque at low revolutions, Rinolfi says. That is the only way to offer the same performance as modern common-rail diesels. "And gasoline should adopt the standard weapon of its diesel competitor - turbocharging and lowered displacement," Rinolfi says.
Such a gasoline engine, with reduced displacement, a small turbocharger and electrohydraulic valve control, would cut carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 25 percent, Rinolfi says
A further reduction could come from using compressed natural gas.
Says Rinolfi: "If you burn compressed natural gas in such an engine, the reduction in CO2 emissions could be almost 50 percent."