Internal combustion engine efficiency has historically been limited more by the state of technology than innovation. As an example, the potential of technologies such as gasoline direct injection were known and attempted in production more than 50 years ago, but direct injection has only become widely available in production within the last decade and now makes up approximately 38 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales. Another example is low-temperature combustion modes such as homogeneous charge compression ignition combustion—in which fuel and air are injected during the intake stroke and then compressed until the entire mixture reacts spontaneously—which were demonstrated in a laboratory more than 30 years ago but are still many years away from market introduction.
Low-temperature combustion processes are of significant interest due to very high thermal efficiencies with significant reductions in many criteria pollutants. As mentioned above, LTC has been a challenge due to the state of technology: unlike conventional spark-ignition and compression-ignition combustion modes, most LTC modes are kinetically controlled and hence much more sensitive to environmental conditions and ever-changing speed/load demands. Recent advances in enabling technologies such as fuel injection systems, turbomachinery, valve actuation, sensors, and onboard computers have led to new real-time control opportunities which are enabling the potential of LTC engines with production-viable hardware.
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