GM has demonstrated homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) for the first time in two driveable concept vehicles, a 2007 Saturn Aura and Opel Vectra. The HCCI gasoline engines operate in mixed mode, using HCCI at lower loads, and reverting to spark-ignition at higher loads and speeds.
When combined with the enabling advanced technologies such as direct injection, electric cam phasing, variable valve lift and cylinder pressure sensing, HCCI combustion provides up to a 15% fuel savings over conventional gasoline engines, while meeting current emissions standards.
I remember debating the limits of combustion capability when I was in college. HCCI was just a dream then. Today, using math-based predictive analysis and other tools, we are beginning to see how we can make this technology real. By combining HCCI with other advanced gasoline engine and control technologies we can deliver a good fuel savings value for consumers.—Tom Stephens, group vice president, GM Powertrain and Quality
In an integrated engine concept, HCCI, along with other enabling advanced technologies, approaches the engine efficiency benefit of a diesel, but without the need for expensive lean NOx after-treatment systems. Its efficiency comes from burning fuel at lower temperatures and reducing the heat energy lost during the combustion process. Consequently, less carbon dioxide is released because the vehicle’s operation in HCCI mode is more efficient.
The HCCI-powered concept vehicles—a production-based Saturn Aura and the Opel Vectra, both with a modified 2.2L Ecotec four-cylinder engine—drive like conventionally powered vehicles, but offer up to 15% improved fuel efficiency relative to a comparable port fuel-injected engine. The fuel efficiency improvement will vary depending on the vehicle application and the customer driving cycle.
The driveable concept vehicles represent some of the first tangible demonstrations of HCCI technology outside of the laboratory.
Highlights of HCCI technology include:
Diesel-like engine efficiency with substantially reduced after-treatment cost;
Builds off proven gasoline direct-injection and variable valve actuation technologies;
Adaptable to conventional gasoline engine architectures;
Requires only conventional automotive exhaust after-treatment;
Compatible with all commercially available gasoline and E85 ethanol fuels.
An HCCI engine ignites a mixture of fuel and air by compressing it in the cylinder. Unlike a spark ignition gas engine or diesel engine, HCCI produces a low-temperature, flameless release of energy throughout the entire combustion chamber. All of the fuel in the chamber is burned simultaneously. This produces power similar to today’s conventional gas engines, but uses less fuel to do it.
Heat is a necessary enabler for the HCCI process, so a traditional spark ignition is used when the engine is started cold to generate heat within the cylinders and quickly heat up the exhaust catalyst and enable HCCI operation. During HCCI mode, the mixture’s dilution is comparatively lean. The lean operation of HCCI helps the engine approach the efficiency of a diesel, but it requires only a conventional automotive exhaust after-treatment.
HCCI builds on the integration of other advanced engine technologies, some of which are already in production and can be adapted to existing gas engines. The cylinder compression ratio is similar to a conventional direct-injected gas engine and is compatible with all commercially available gasoline and E85 fuels.
GM demonstrated the adaptation of the HCCI technology in driveable concept vehicles based on conventional, production-based products like the Saturn Aura and Opel Vectra. The Aura features an automatic transmission; the Vectra, which is aimed at the European market, has a manual transmission.
Both vehicles are powered by a 2.2-liter Ecotec engine (180 horsepower [134 kW] and 170 lb.-ft [230 Nm] of torque) that features a central direct-injection system, with variable valve lift on both the intake and exhaust sides, dual electric camshaft phasers and individual cylinder pressure transducers to control the combustion as well as deliver a smooth transition between combustion modes.
A sophisticated controller, using cylinder pressure sensors and GM-developed control algorithms, manages the HCCI combustion process, as well as the transition between HCCI combustion and conventional spark-ignition combustion. The transition between the combustion processes is notable in the demonstration prototypes, but production versions are intended to deliver an imperceptible transition while driving, similar to the deactivation performance of GM’s Active Fuel Management system.
Currently, the GM demonstration prototypes can operate on HCCI up to approximately 55 mph, transitioning to spark ignition at higher vehicle speeds and during heavy engine load. An extended range for HCCI operation is intended as further refinements to the control system and engine hardware are made.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of HCCI is controlling the combustion process. With spark ignition, you can adjust the timing and intensity of the spark, but with HCCI’s flameless combustion, you need to change the mixture composition and temperature in a complex and timely manner to achieve comparable performance.—Prof. Dr. Uwe Grebe, executive director for GM Powertrain Advanced Engineering
GM’s global HCCI team will continue to refine the technology in the wide range of driving conditions experienced around the globe, from extreme heat and cold to the thin air effects of driving at high altitude.
In 2005, GM announced a three-year, $2.5-million research program with supplier Robert Bosch and Stanford University to accelerate development of HCCI. (Earlier post.)