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LaunchPoint receives $500K NSF grant to further development of magnetic valve actuator

LaunchPoint’s Magnetic Valve Actuator. Click to enlarge.

LaunchPoint Technologies Inc. has been awarded a $500,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant (No. IIP-1058556) to continue the development of a novel magnetic valve actuator. Once fully developed, the actuator will enable the implementation of electronically-controlled variable valve timing in camless internal combustion engines.

The advantages of magnetic valve system (MVS) technology originate from the nature of the magnetic spring actuator that provides efficient control of the valve position and speed during valve opening and closing events. The Launchpoint valve actuator is based on the patented magnetic spring technology (US Patent# 7,265,470) originally developed by LaunchPoint for an aerospace application.

Several superimposed switching curves collected during the Phase I experiments with the valve actuator traversing an 8 millimeter trajectory in 3 milliseconds. The data reveal consistent switching trajectories and very smooth landings with speeds less than 0.3 m/sec and almost no oscillations. Source: LaunchPoint. Click to enlarge.

A bench-top prototype developed during the Phase I effort demonstrated outstanding performance characteristics. Test results showed that the actuator was able to traverse an 8mm stroke distance in 3 milliseconds with consistent switching trajectories and very soft landings.

The Phase II development effort, led by Principal Investigator Mike Ricci, VP of Engineering, will be aimed at reducing the switching interval even further while improving robustness of the design. During this phase LaunchPoint engineers will design, construct, and test on an experimental engine, a second generation of the magnetic valve actuator integrated into a complete engine subsystem. This Magnetic Valve System (MVS) will comprise the magnetic valve actuator, an integrated sensor, a control unit, and a power amplifier, which together provide electronic control of the valve timing.

Variable valve timing is the Holy Grail of internal combustion control. The advantages of our technology stem from the inherent nature of the nonlinear magnetic spring used as the primary valve actuator. The nonlinear spring provides most of the energy required to open or close the valve while also ensuring a soft landing. The low-power electromagnetic actuator is used only to “throw” or “catch” the valve at the beginning or the end of the stroke.

—Dr. Maksim Subbotin, Systems Engineer and Principal Investigator for Phase I

Magnetic valve actuators can be applied to a wide variety of internal combustion engines. Actuators of this type would eliminate the numerous engine components required for a typical camshaft drive, thereby decreasing manufacturing and maintenance costs and increasing reliability.

Magnetic actuators could be designed into new engines as well as retrofitted to existing engines. They could enable implementation of emerging advanced combustion technologies such as Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition and Compressed Air Hybrids. The widespread adoption of these actuators would substantially decrease petroleum usage and the associated production of greenhouse gases and air pollution, the company suggests.

LaunchPoint Technologies Inc. is an engineering services and contract R&D firm with expertise in electromagnetics; control theory; motor and generator design and development; medical device design and development; CFD optimization, and prototyping. LaunchPoint works with government agencies, companies, and entrepreneurs to develop new technologies, secure IP, and procure funds for commercialization efforts.



Electronically controlled magnetic valves, opposed cylinders, electronically controlled laser plugs, electric two stage compressors etc etc could produce better ICE with less pollution and less fuel consumption. Will industry have time to incorporate those changes before electrified vehicles take over?


The end of the internal combustion engine is a ways off yet.


You would have enough control on the valves to make the engine able to run atkinson or otto depending on load

Nick Lyons

It would be interesting to know 1. What kind of voltage is required to make this work, and 2. Is the energy required to run this type of valve train more or less than a camshaft. After all, upon valve closing in a mechanical valve train, the expanding spring returns energy to the rotating camshaft. I don't see that energy conservation happening here, unless I'm missing something.



Yes they will have time , because EV won't take over any time soon


The power and voltage requirements more or less necessitate a hybrid drivetrain. BMW tried electric actuators a couple of years ago but apparently dropped them in favor of the fully-variable mechanic valve train (Valvetronic).

Mechanical valve trains are much more efficient than electric valve trains. With roller bearings (in addition to roller followers) the mechanical valve trains will be even more efficient. Thus, electric valve trains will have difficulties to compete. Furthermore, mechanical valve trains can already provide variable valve actuation (e.g. BMW and others). Hydraulic (and possibly pneumatic) valve trains are other options. Some of the energy could be recuperated with these systems. For example, the Fiat hydraulic valve train seems as a very neat system. However, this system still uses a camshaft. I can see a niche for electric valve trains in free-piston engines where you do not have a rotating shaft readily available for driving a mechanical valve train.

BTW, look how enormous the actuator is. There is little room for such big components under the hood of a modern car. How can you make (without compromises) a 4-V cylinder head with these actuators?


Treehugger...hope that you are under estimating the time it takes to incorporate major changes in ICE and also the arrival of many types of electrified vehicles.

Peter_X.... this is a very first model. Future models could be many times smaller. Electrified/electronic ancillaries are moving in ICE and Electrified vehicles at a fast pace. The idea is to replace most mechanical/hydraulic parts/components to lower weight, reduce maintenance, reduce fuel consumption, reduce GHG and extend life.


I could see an electrically triggered air system. 10,000 psi should get some snappy performance, you have to keep the valve mass low, but they have been doing that for a long time.

Having continuous control over the valve timing can bring many benefits and there are several ways to do that. I would say that pure electric solenoid actuation would take lot of power and a huge solenoid to move an engine valve the required distance in a few milliseconds.


After examining their patent, they seem to be advocating replacing the spring with a solenoid. They still show a cam pushing on the valve stem, but electro magnets return the valve and keep contact with the cam follower.


This model is bigger that the first prototype I heard about some 20 years ago. Some progress...

Electric ancillaries? Regulated mechanically driven oil and water pumps are more efficient than electric ones. Engine makers have just recently discovered this fact...

Yes, pneumatic actuation could be an option. There is a Swedish company ( who develops a pneumatic valve train. Pneumatic valve springs have been used in Formula 1 engines for many years but that is not quite the same topic...


I am surprised they have not retained a spring, mechanical or pneumatic. That way the electro actuator could act like generator-motor, and recover much of the energy in the return stroke.

Maybe they are planning that, but just leaving it out for simplicity of demonstration.


An electro mechanical magnetic damper night not be a bad idea. Springs bounce depending on frequency and hydraulic lifters are clumsy at speed, so just do it with electro magnets that can be an actuator and encoder.


@ Nick Lyons

Some of the electrical energy stored in the solenoid should be recoverable when its magnetic field collapses.

I can't comment whether the mechanical energy stored in the spring is recoverable since this report gives insufficient design detail to make an accurate assessment.


@ Nick Lyons

The patent claims might be a good place to seek an answer to mechanical energy recovery.

George Furey


I myself would love to see the transition to electric vehicles however considering the orders of magnitude in energy density improvement batteries need before they can replace gasoline, combined with the rate at which the vehicle fleet replaces itself, I have to agree with SJC that the ICE is going to be here for many years to come, especially in heavy duty applications.


I thought the exact same thing, combining this technology with direct injection would allow for engines that are efficient at nearly all load and speed conditions. The top efficiency islands could be expanded to cover the majority of the engine map. This would have the side effect of reducing the advantage hybrids have over traditional drivetrains. Controlling valve lift and dwell timing could allow you to greatly increase the expansion ratio at part load and act like an atkinson cycle engine. At full load you could also get more HP, a disadvantage in Atkinson engines. You could also reduce throttle pumping losses as in the system Fiat uses

@Peter XX
Agreed this actuator is much too large to be viable in many engines, however you consider that the whole valvetrain would be replaced with several of these the increased size isn't much more.

Also you have to consider that the model in the picture is based off of an experimental benchtop model in the earliest stages of prototyping. I have a strong feeling that a production model could be made much smaller.

As for the competition, Fiat pulled off this feat on their multi-air engines, at least on the intake side, however as you said it still requires a camshaft.


"Test results showed that the actuator was able to traverse an 8mm stroke distance in 3 milliseconds with consistent switching trajectories and very soft landings."

I bet they probably went without springs to reduce the inertia of the moving parts, decreasing the amount of energy required to actuate the valve. Lower inertia also means you can rev to higher RPMs as long as the actuator can keep up.

I would also imagine that if you were to have very high rate springs capable of closing very quickly the power requirements to overcome the spring force would be much higher than without a spring. Removing the spring also allows for the "soft landings" described in the article, possibly allowing for even lighter valves with even lower inertia

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