Under the hood of almost all modern automobiles there sits a four-stroke internal combustion engine (ICE). Though the efficiency of the design has been improved upon significantly in the intervening years, the basic concept is the same today as that used by the first practical four-stroke engine built in the 1870s. During every cycle in a typical car engine, each piston moves up and down twice in the chamber, resulting in four total strokes... one of which is the power stroke that provides the torque to move the vehicle. But the automotive industry may soon be revolutionized by a new six-stroke design which adds a second power stroke, resulting in a much more efficient and less polluting alternative.

In a traditional ICE cycle, 1) the fuel/air valves open as the piston moves down, which draws air and fuel into the chamber; 2) the valves close as the piston moves back up, putting the air/fuel mixture under pressure; 3) the mixture is then ignited, causing a small explosion which forces the piston back down, which turns the crank and provides the torque; and finally 4) the exhaust valves open as the piston moves back up once again, pushing the byproducts of the fuel explosion out of the chamber. This leaves the piston back in its starting position, ready for another cycle. This process is repeated thousands of times per minute.

The clever new six-stroke design was developed by 75-year-old mechanic and tinkerer Bruce Crower, a veteran of the racing industry and a the owner of a company which produces high-performance cams and other engine parts. He had long been trying to devise a way to harness the waste heat energy of combustion engines, and one day in 2004 he awoke with an idea which he immediately set to work designing and machining. He modified a single-cylinder engine on his workbench to use the new design, and after fabricating the parts and assembling the powerplant, he poured in some gas and yanked the starter rope. His prototype worked.

His addition to the ICE design is simple in principle, yet a stroke of genius. After the exhaust cycles out of the chamber, rather than squirting more fuel and air into the chamber, his design injects ordinary water. Inside the extremely hot chamber, the water immediately turns to steam-- expanding to 1600 times its volume-- which forces the piston down for a second power stroke. Another exhaust cycle pushes the steam out of the chamber, and then the six-stroke cycle begins again.

Besides providing power, this water injection cycle cools the engine from within, making an engine's heavy radiator, coolant, and fans obsolete. Despite its lack of a conventional liquid cooling system, his bench engine is only warm to the touch while it is running.

From the Autoweek article:

Crower invites us to imagine a car or truck (he speaks of a Bonneville streamliner, too) free of a radiator and its associated air ducting, fan, plumbing, coolant weight, etc.“Especially an 18-wheeler, they’ve got that massive radiator that weighs 800, 1000 pounds. Not necessary,” he asserts. “In those big trucks, they look at payload as their bread and butter. If you get 1000 lb. or more off the truck…”

Offsetting that, of course, would be the need to carry large quantities of water, and water is heavier than gasoline or diesel oil. Preliminary estimates suggest a Crower cycle engine will use roughly as many gallons of water as fuel.

And Crower feels the water should be distilled, to prevent deposits inside the system, so a supply infrastructure will have to be created. (He uses rainwater in his testing.) Keeping the water from freezing will be another challenge.

Bruce Crower holds a patent on the new design-- which he is still developing and tweaking-- but he estimates that eventually his six-stroke engine could improve a typical engine’s fuel consumption by as much as forty percent.

Written by Alan Bellows, posted on 18 March 2006. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.
eBooks and audiobooks