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Ricardo investigating potential for its split-cycle engine in large engine market

Ricardo is exploring the value proposition for applications of its novel split-cycle combustion engine (earlier post). In a poster-session paper presented at CIMAC Congress 2016 in Finland, Ricardo described the use of this split-cycle concept in high- and medium-speed engines for power generation to achieve efficiencies of 60% from units of 1–30 MW mechanical output.

Ricardo, in collaboration with the University of Brighton, has been developing the split-cycle engine with an eye toward improving the thermal efficiency of heavy-duty engines. The engine is based on a fundamentally new split-cycle combustion concept using a recuperated split-cycle with isothermal compression via cryogenic injection. The technology has the potential to realize brake thermal efficiencies in the order of 60% across a number of applications, Ricardo says.

Illustrative split cycle engine layout in a V configuration (cross section view). Based on a modified MTU Series 396. Gurr (2016). Click to enlarge.

The new cycle combines both Diesel and Ericsson Cycles into an integrated process to recover waste heat within a single thermodynamic cycle. The Ericsson cycle comprises two isothermal and two constant pressure (isobaric) processes. (An Ericsson engine based on the Ericsson cycle is an external combustion engine, because it is externally heated.) To improve efficiency, the engine has a regenerator or recuperator between the compressor and the expander.

Key changes to implement the integrated cycle are isothermal compression and heat addition from the exhaust gas to the charge air after the end of compression.

To transfer exhaust gas heat at the end of compression requires the use of a “split cycle” in which the standard four-stroke sequence is split into two separate elements. Intake and compression are carried out in one cylinder; combustion plus expansion and exhaust in another. Gas is transferred from the compression cylinder to the expansion cylinder via a heat exchanger that transfers heat from the exhaust to this high pressure compressed gas.

Using isothermal compression enhances the recovery of exhaust gas waste heat and significantly improves cycle efficiency.

Ricardo has explored a number of isothermal compression technologies, including use of a water spray during compression and also direct injection of cryogenic nitrogen or air. The use of a cryogen for isothermal or sub-cooled compression results in a more efficient compression process, and also realizes a reduction in pumping work, while increasing the thermal differential across the heat exchanger, driving increased capture and reinvestment of waste heat.

The benefits of a split cycle have been demonstrated numerous times by different bodies. Split cycle with waste heat recuperation but with water fulfilling the role of compression cooling fluid was demonstrated by National Power and presented here at CIMAC in (2004 and 2007) by Coney. Employing a cryogenic fluid to cool the charge air during the compression stroke is the inventive step taken more recently by Ricardo. However, should that additional fluid run out, the engine can run on in a conventional recuperated split cycle mode, utilizing some of the split cycle benefits to a lesser extent, such as waste heat recuperation. Industry progress in the key technologies and Ricardo’s innovations are enabling the split cycle technology to now be implemented. This new activity coupled with fuel saving and CO2 drivers has brought about a new interest in split cycle.

—“The 60% Efficiency Reciprocating Engine: A Modular Alternative to Large Scale Combined Cycle Power”

For the CIMAC paper, Ricardo focused on a total cost of energy assessment of a recuperated split cycle reciprocating internal combustion engine with liquid nitrogen as the cryogenic fluid introduced for compression cooling. The basis of this evaluation was for a power generation application, replacing single large Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) units with modular and flexible split cycle genset installations.

CCGT units of > 250 MW are achieving 55-60% brake thermal efficiency (BTE) at full load. Ricardo says that its split cycle technology also has the potential to achieve circa. 60% while also enabling a more distributed power solution, allowing for further efficiency increases through reduced grid losses.

For the CIMAC analysis, Ricardo used three unit power capacities: 4MW, 9MW and 18MW. Total cost of energy was calculated for the split cycle solution at these nodes; the total cost of energy was also evaluated for baseline diesel powertrains and diesel powertrains with Organic Ranking Cycle (ORC) waste heat recovery fitted.

The analysis found that the split cycle engine could achieve class leading efficiency levels in the 1-4 MW range, comparable with very high efficiency large scale CCGT technology. Overall, other than solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), which are not anticipated to be available for some time yet, a <15MW split cycle can achieve a class leading BTE.


Existing and future power generation solutions brake thermal efficiency compared to split cycle (0.5-30MW) “Cryopower”. Gurr (2016). Click to enlarge.

The Innovate UK-funded split cycle research program to install, commission and test a single cylinder combustor was completed earlier this year. The EPSRC-funded ULTRA project now takes over test bench testing of the engine.

Ricardo is also proposing a three-year collaborative program to design, build and test a multi-cylinder split cycle engine, most likely based on a heavy-duty diesel (HDD) platform to accelerate development with two compression cylinders and four combustion/expansion cylinders. Running in 2-stroke operation, this unit would match conventional specific power and torque profiles.


  • Adam Gurr (2016) “The 60% Efficiency Reciprocating Engine: A Modular Alternative to Large Scale Combined Cycle Power” CIMAC 2016 paper Nº 267



If you could run it from natural gas, and start / stop it easily, it could be a good compliment to renewables.

Liviu Giurca

Similar approach was proposed few months ago for a two stroke opposed piston engine which is simpler and even more efficient. Having big power density this total heat recovery engine can be used also for automotive or aircraft applications not only for stationary or marine configurations.


If the specific power is good enough, I see this going into marine use very quickly.


Does "Cryogenic fluid" means they are using liquid air or nitrogen?
If that's the case, how do you compute the efficiency? Producing liquid nitrogen is an energy-intensive proccess.
I think this 60% efficiency does not account for energy spent in producing the cryogenic fluid.

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