As much as we love piston engines, they’re horribly inefficient. You lose stacks of energy through heat, friction and more, wasting a great deal of potential from that exploding fuel. One new engine design, however, aims to eliminate nearly all the losses associated with internal combustion.
It’s the ‘Omega 1’ from a company called Astron Aerospace. Invented by Matthew Riley, it’s a rotary engine, but it operates very differently from a Wankel. For one thing, there are no apex seals. Or many seals at all for that matter.
The design splits the four-stroke combustion cycle in two. On one half of the engine, we have two ‘paddle rotors’ dealing with intake and compression, and another pair on the other side for combustion and exhaust. Two counter-rotating shafts run through the engine and these rotors, each synchronised by big gears.
These cogs and their bearings are the only contact points in the whole engine, thus the only bits that require lubrication. Very tight tolerances are key for the lack of rotor seals, as are the high RPMs involve since there is “not enough time for the air to leak when running,” Astron says.
There’s also a supercharged air intake running at extremely high pressure, which is said to be “an integral part of the combustion process”. Compared to a regular supercharger that might run at something like 15psi on a production car, the Omega 1’s forces air in at more like 200 to 300 psi.
Another interesting element is the “skip fire” function. While you’re accelerating, the engine will fire during every rotation, but at cruising speed, it’ll only combust when necessary - “every five, 10, 50 rotations or whatever is required”. As a result of this and the generally efficient nature of the engine, the Omega 1 is said to offer “extremely low” emissions.
And now for the really fun bit. Much like a Wankel engine, the Omega system is modular, so you can theoretically line up however many units you want. A two-engine stack for instance would weigh around 150kg and produce over 300bhp and 340lb ft of torque while getting through very little fuel. Oh, and it’ll rev up to 25,000rpm. Suggested applications include generators, marine, aerospace and yes, recreational vehicles.
While the car industry pushes towards electrification, projects like this show combustion engines in automotive could have a future in some settings. We do have to caveat Omega 1 in saying that the idea seems to be at a fairly early stage, but regardless, this is something to watch with interest.