Ford Patent Wants To Save Internal Combustion

There’s no doubt the venerable internal combustion engine is under fire. A recent patent filing from Ford claims it can dramatically reduce emissions and, if true, the technology might give classic engines a few more years of service life, according to [CarBuzz].

The patent in question centers on improving the evaporative emission system’s performance. The usual evaporative emission system stores fuel fumes in a carbon-filled canister. The canister absorbs fuel vapor when under high pressure. When the engine idles and pressure in the cylinder drops, the canister releases fumes, which are combusted with ordinary fuel/air mixture.

However, these fumes tend to reduce engine performance, which is why you should only use them during idle. If the engine exceeds the canister’s capacity without removing vapor, the residual gasses vent to the atmosphere.

The invention uses a pre-chamber that allows the engine to purge the canister more often and faster. The [Carbuzz] post claims this will improve efficiency, reduce emissions, and reduce carbon deposits on valves.

Of course, there are two big questions: will this be practical at scale production, and how effective will it be? We aren’t sure we could answer either of those questions, especially from arcane patent language.

Engines are an amazing bit of tech and even more complicated now that we care about emissions. The tiny ones are especially awe-inspiring. Then again, if you build your engines with Lego, emissions aren’t really a problem.

85 thoughts on “Ford Patent Wants To Save Internal Combustion

    1. Depends on the fuel. Ehtane and methane are greenhouse gases in their native state. And while heavier hydrocarbons aren’t by themselves greenhouse gasses, once they oxidize they still release CO2.

    2. What if the fuel used was made with solar energy using carbon and hydrogen from the atmosphere. High-temperature solar heat is used to convert water vapor and carbon dioxide into synthetic fuels (solar fuels). Solar fuels are globally compatible with the current fuel infrastructure and reduce net greenhouse gases emissions.

      1. Then we would be living in a very different world. Sadly, nothing you just said has ever been demonstrated at-scale, nevermind being financially viable.

        We already have an electric grid that works quite well, from generation all the way through to the electric cars themsevles. Even in the area where I live, where power is quite expensive, it’s cheaper to drive an electric car on power from the grid than to spend money on gasoline. My neighbor saves $400 a year doing it.

        1. See:
          They will initially work with a few airlines, but their process of capturing CO2 from cement production (This chemical reaction is a major emitter of global carbon dioxide emissions) and then using that carbon dioxide to produce solar fuels may sound crazy, but it is at least a tiny step in the right direction if we still need fuel and cement. The next step would be capturing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and closing the carbon cycle.

        2. How much was that electric vehicle and at $400 a year savings (which I do not believe, by the way) how long will it take him/her to recoup t he additional cost of the vehicle?

          1. Electric cars are more expensive to insure, and a healthy chunk of the price you pay for dinosaur fluid is tax. Seems like your friend is moving some numbers around.

            (I looked at buy a used tesla this year with free supercharging and the insurance costs on it were greater than I spent on gasoline for the year)

            I’m in apartment and don’t have access to charging at home.

          2. Depends on your driving volume, I suspect. My HRV gets 24mpg, at $3.09/gallon currently I pay $0.1288/mile.

            I considered getting a Chevy Bolt right before their battery kerfuffle. That averages 3.9 miles per kwh. My electric rate is $0.1188 per kwh, so the Bolt would be $0.3/mile, 1/4 the cost of my HRV.

            I drive around 250 miles per week. That’s $1,673 in fuel for my HRV, or it would have been $418 in electricity if I had purchased the Bolt.

            That’s minimum of $1,255 per year savings.

            Also, at the time Chevy had frozen the cost of the Bolt at MSRP while everyone else was adding a premium for COVID shortages, so I ended up paying almost $8,000 more for my HRV than I would have if I had purchased a Bolt. Chevy was also paying the installation of charging infrastructure in the home for every Bolt purchased.

            Range was the primary issue that decided it for me, as multiple times per year I travel right at the max range for the Bolt and didn’t want to have to wait a day at my destination before being able to drive around. My wife refused the compromise of renting a car for those trips, lol.

          3. Information is insufficient to do a present value calculations for comparison.

            What is the value assigned per hippy chick?
            That’s an individuals number. Have to be a hypothetical ‘average hippy chick’.
            For some it makes the electric car a much worse investment/others the opposite.

        3. That is as far from the truth as you can get. Our electric grid is terrible in terms of supporting electric cars. So bad in fact that Airizona has had to start rejecting permits for new data centers. Not only that but nation wide our electric grid is 98% tapped, meaning even if the government were to give everyone an electric car for free by 2035 we wouldn’t be able to drive due to the lack of supporting infrastructure. Talk to anyone who has gone on a long trip in an electric car about their struggle.

        4. In Aus it’s proven that it’s cheaper with the same ice car to be cheap to travel long distance unless you can charge at home there was also over 2hr 15mins longer in a ev also they tested it in the 7series BMW and there was $100k price difference get that savings back a year like your neighbour what was the price of the gas model car than tell me how much of a savings did he have

        5. Maybe so but getting into more practical applications such as farming or towing. Electrical vehicles don’t have the capacity nore power to work well. Plus charging batteries releases oxygen and hydrogen.
          A study produced by climate scientists at the Oslo-based CICERO Centre for Climate Research has found that leaked hydrogen has a global warming effect around 12 times greater than emitted CO₂.

    3. Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Have the hydrocarbons in gasoline, especially octane, even been tested? Do you know that octane is not a greenhouse gas?

          1. Believe what you want. Octane is a substance. Gasoline is a blend of hydrocarbons, including hexane and octane. The reason we associate octane with anti-detonation properties, it is because octane has that property, and the “octane” rating of a particular gasoline is roughly equivalent to what that percentage of octane content would produce the same properties.

        1. The old school methods involved having a rugged single cylinder test engine. I’m remembering this from forty years ago, so be gentle :)

          The old school methods involved having a rugged single cylinder test engine, possibly variable compression to be able to run on various fuels. They run the engine on the test fuel and measure how much it knocks. The engine is then run on a mixture of octane and (istr) hexane and the mixture adjusted to get the same knocking. The percentage of octane in the mix is the octane rating.

    4. No one said greenhouse gasses. They said emissions. Of which hydrocarbons are one. They’re part of the emissions limitations in many areas, like California and Euro emissions standards

    5. Germany has the largest automobile market in Europe. They also have decent data.

      If all German car owners decided tomorrow not to move beyond the end of their garden, never again to drive on the Autobahn and they banned all combustion engine vehicles and the effect was immediate.

      The 420 ppm CO2 would fall to 417.5 ppm. i.e. No significant environmental effect.

      So what is the point of this other than rich people getting even richer by tax payers paying more taxes?

      1. This, specifically, is about unburnt hydrocarbon emissions which cause all kinds of interesting health issues. Effects on a local scale, not global.
        Don’t think ’emissions’ is always exclusively about CO2 and global warming. Smog and cancer are also effects of various types of emission.

        1. Whataboutism! Rather than answer the question you raise another.

          Yet there have never been more people on the planet and they live longer.
          Not everybody gets sick/dies from unburnt hydrocarbon emissions. See first point.
          How many people have “cause of death” unburnt hydrocarbon emissions on their death certificate? None.
          And you don’t need emissions to get cancer. See first point.
          We could argue like this for days. Let’s get back to the question.

          The 420 ppm CO2 would fall to 417.5 ppm. i.e. No significant environmental effect.

          So what is the point of this other than rich people getting even richer by tax payers paying more taxes?

          I’m absolutely for positive change. But the argument is simply not there. Try working on that.

        2. You’ll get my 2 stoke lawn mower from my cold dead fingers!

          It’s great, Yamaha engine. Will last longer then my heirs.

          Truth: It’s for corners. Since I replaced the front tires on my rider with slick hard tires, it understears/pushes (depending on turn direction). I’m nursing an ill handling racecar to the finish in my head. Fun!

    6. Previously… vapor is burnt during idling, not helping to propel the vehicle.

      After this… vapor is burnt along with the fuel propelling the vehicle. Meaning less fuel need be burnt to travel the same distance?

      It sounds to me like it would reduce greenhouse gasses… even if by way to small an amount to “save” anything.

      1. Furthermore, the vapor in the charcoal canister is .. gasoline. Which is what gasoline engines burn. If they don’t run right when burning the gasoline from the canister, it’s because the system isn’t mixing the right amount of air with that gasoline. Evaporative emissions controls were mandated because gasoline vapor venting from vehicles while sitting in the sun were found to be contributing to photochemical smog, and thence to health problems. Gasoline vapor is driven by pressure in the fuel tank, through a canister of activated charcoal, which absorbs the vapor, which is then purged the next time the engine is running by being sucked into the intake manifold, to be burned in the engine. This system was developed before electronic fuel injection was common, making it difficult to control the mixture going to the engine while the charcoal canister was being purged, because there is no device measuring how much gasoline vapor is in the canister. However, I don’t think it is correct that this is done at idle – that would be when the concentration of gasoline vapor would have the greatest effect on engine operation and emissions. My understanding is that the valve that meters vapor from the canister delivers more when the engine is working harder, when a small amount of additional fuel has the least effect. Could be wrong, but it doesn’t make sense that it would do this at idle.

  1. All good in theory, too bad in the real world EVAP systems are some of the first to fail due to corrosion, dust, dirt and all the other messy real world problems that engineers forget about. Can’t see this minor improvement delaying the death of the IC engine in passenger cars.

      1. Hi Sword. Are u talking about the Benz “vapor” motor? The illustration showed vapors running all over the place inside that thing..I guess to help heat em up..thereby negating need for external preheating vaporizer????// Steve B.

  2. So, this is for when an ICE car is idling? But aren’t Mild-Hybrids (MHEVs) replacing full-fat ICE vehicles and don’t they simply turn the engine off when idling?

    IMHO, every supposed ICE innovation needs to be weighed up against the objective of zero emissions by 2050 (at least in the West and at least for transport). That’s 26 years, 3.8% per year. So, when a MHEV reduces emissions by 5% to 10%, it means that if you design one or buy one, you’ve given yourself 1.3 to 2.6 years of emissions reductions. As far as I can see, that’s the best Ford’s innovation can give the industry.

    A HEV reduces emissions by about 20%, so that’s 5.3 years. So, after 2029 you need something better. Of course, someone could invoke the Achilles and the Tortoise paradox whereby you buy one in 2029 and therefore the 20% emissions cut is good for 4.2 years, then buy one in 2033 where the 20% emissions cut is good for 3.4 years, so you buy another in summer 2036 where it’s good for 2.8 years etc and you can keep buying HEVs all the way up to 2049 where you can keep it for 2 months. But this, I’d suggest is a slight-of-hand where one has to ignore the previous period where the emissions weren’t cut. I which case we should start the HEV clock in the year 1997 when the Prius first arrived and we had 53 years to cut emissions, or 10.6 years of HEVs meaning HEVs were obsolete in 2008 when the Tesla Roadster appeared ;-) .

    Is the development effort worth it? The fact that multiple combustion engine design teams have and are being disbanded suggests not, and that simply jumping straight to battery EVs (BEVs), where all the major performance improvements are happening makes far more engineering sense.

    1. Interesting you mention “at least in the West,” which is of course the only place which will seriously try to limit or eliminate ICE use. I wonder what the population of the non-Western world will be in 2050.

    2. The fact they’re getting rid of nuclear at the same time belies that they are either crazy or else environmentalism is simply a cover for trying to wreck things on purpose

      1. Yep. If you look for recent sources for total power output you really have to dig through hype of “x% is now renewable” to the fine print that shows power output has and continues to fall year over year.

        1. This is the main reason I have stuck with ICE. Frankly I am gas maxing. The only thing that has been reliable is the availability of gasoline, propane and natural gas. I almost went grid connected solar but it was substantially cheaper to have backup electricity with propane. It seems in CA specifically the power grid is at a reduced output while the population and the applications for electricity increases. I guess thats why many of the tesla stations have huge propane generators. Ill just cut out the middle man and motivate my vehicle with combustion.

      2. Doesn’t seem to me that “they” are the same people. With billions of people in the world, there are more agendas and viewpoints to choose from than just one or the other. Just because you stuff people into a simplistic category and blame them for something you imagine others in that category are responsible for, doesn’t mean it’s true. Do you remember when Rock was the devil’s music?

    3. Hint: All targets with dates beyond the term of current leadership are simply propaganda/BS.

      They won’t stand an impact with reality. Will be ignored when the time comes.

  3. There was a huge spike in efficiency innovations on steam locomotives from the 1920’s onwards, when electric (and later, diesel) locomotives and later trainsets and railcars became apparently more efficient, however (for electric) at quite an upfront investment cost.

    I see the same happening with ICE’s now: A gient push for efficiency by automakers who don’t want or financially cannot invest into ZE drivelines.

    1. Maintenance costs ended steam locomotives.
      There are basically no more open cycle steam power systems. Remaining steam recirculates distilled water.

      Lots of patients does not mean lots of efficiency gain. It means they were down to making small improvements at the edges.
      Coal was cheap, still is. But boiler rebuilds cost a lot and were routine.

  4. All this adds to the overwhelming complexity of a modern ICE vehicle and chances of early failure.
    More electronics in an ICE vehicle than an EV and a hell of lot more moving parts to ware out.

    1. So you believe that an internal combustion engine can be made completely emission free?

      Alternatively, do you believe that the laws requiring emissions free vehicles will be relaxed?

      1. All laws with deadlines after the current leadership is out of office are propaganda/BS/wish lists.

        They won’t just relaxed, they will be ignored and laughed at.
        Maybe repealed, depends on place. They love to leave old ignored laws on books in the USA.

    2. I think you’re partly right in thinking it might be a religious practice. But a bigger driver may be a propagandistic attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy. Getting enough people to believe to believe that IC cars will disappear in the short term will get more of them buying EV’s and give the whole movement more energy.

      I haven’t seen any analyses I trust indicating that over their total life cycle EV’s are any better than even IC cars, let alone hybrids, when it comes to GG emissions. I’d be willing to suck it up and live with the downsides – lack of range, long recharge times, greater particulate pollution from faster tire wear, environmental damage from mining and battery disposal, fires which are more destructive and impossible to extinguish – if I knew the result would be meaningfully lower greenhouse gas output. Currently, I’m extremely skeptical.

      1. Isn’t it convenient when it just so happens that all the analyses you trust agree with your existing notions? Sure saves on having to scrutinize the logic or examine whether the facts you’re basing things on are accurate, or whether any differences are intrinsic or extrinsic to the technology.

    1. As far as I knowVW is the only company committed to building a dedicated recycling plant for EV batteries.
      Possibly the Kia/Hundai group, but I’m not sure.
      Also GM and Ford are apprently “looking into” such plants but again not sure where they stand.
      Also this will give those companies that do excuse to pass on that cost in vehicle prices…

  5. The emissions systems and evap leaks are already a major source of engine codes and repairs. Additional things like this will just continue to add more cost and with more parts to break more repairs. Seems we reached a point there isn’t much useful they can do with the IC engine. Yes gas cars will still be on the roads in 2050 but much less common than today.

  6. Internal combustion has had its day. Carnot limits on efficiency at about 30%, increasing complexity of emission control systems and all of the ancillaries they require will make internal combustion more expensive than electric cars in the next few years.

    Meanwhile batteries will improve and become less expensive.

    Economics will seal the internal combustion engine’s fate.

    1. These are Otto cycle engines, not Carnot cycle. Formula 1 engines get over 50% efficiency. They run hot.

      If you take all 4 strokes into account, with “normal” temperatures you get a 47% equivalent Carnot limit

      1. F1 engines are not really applicable, they run at full load all the time where engines are most efficient and they have no emission control what so ever, they have no chance of meeting any kind of emission control for NOx or particulates

    1. Agreed. Electric is too expensive and imprctical in large countries. Not enough range and few charging stations are the big issues.
      We need to think of new ways to power a vhicle or reduce the size and weight of cars.

  7. while I believe EVs are the future, I have no prospects on buying one in this age as batteries are to heavy, expensive and require too much energy to produce.

    1. Hybrids make a lot of sense though. Between running the generator at optimum engine efficiency (and the option to couple it to the drive wheels at maximum engine efficiency) and the ability to downsize the engine for average instead of peak load. Also accessories can run with engine off on the smaller battery pack than a true EV.

      Very few downsides as the EV/Hybrid technology improves. You could even have a propane conversion hybrid, as the hybrid tech makes the downsides of the propane conversion (EG limited torque) a non-issue.

      The tech is not all bad, between more torque than a supercharger would provide, and the ability to take EV only short trips hybrid EV may be a good short term solution.

  8. A lot of this nonsense with CAFE and these emission systems are driven by totally nonsensical government regulations at this point. Getting lead out of gasoline has become abolishing ICE vehicles. The optimal mileage and emissions and the weekend mechanic’s ability to repair was in the 1990s. A lot of this stuff is overkill and the cost foisted on the consumer.

    What is the point of a gasoline direction injection engine saving fuel if the engine has to have maintenance costing several hundred dollars every so often that eats up any savings. Never mind the petroleum products and their transport required for these things. Environmental though, right?

    I’ll stick with my 20 something year old truck and couple other vehicles. Mine have an average age of over 20 years. I’d say I’m more environmental than any EV owner ever.

    1. I’m with you on that. I don’t have numbers, but I think that replacing an old but functioning gas hog with a brand new electric vehicle generates more pollution and CO2 from producing the vehicle than just running the gas hog into the ground does.

      1. I forgot to add the question as to what happens to all of those plastic gallon containers of DEF? I’m sure they all get recycled, right? And how much energy does it take to transport a pallet of DEF jugs?

    1. I was inspector in a radiator plant for years. We made a part that captured the exhaust from a diesel engine and ran it back through the block again. Why not run that in a gasoline engine?

  9. Wouldn’t be it simpler if a fuel tank had an ellastic bag inside which would be filled with fuel, while the space around it with air? Of course the bag should be made of a material which doesn’t dissolve in hydrocarbons.

    1. That’s a fuel cell. Race cars etc. Cuts fuel spills in accidents but does nothing for fumes.

      The liner is a routine replacement part (IIRC every 4 years for SCCA, obviously single use for F1 and the like).

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