The Scaling of Performance and Losses in Miniature Internal Combustion Engines

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Miniature glow ignition internal combustion (IC) piston engines are an off-the-shelf technology that could dramatically increase the endurance of miniature electric power supplies and the range and endurance of small unmanned air vehicles provided their overall thermodynamic efficiencies can be increased to 15% or better. This thesis presents the first comprehensive analysis of small (<500 g) piston engine performance. A unique dynamometer system is developed that is capable of making reliable measurements of engine performance and losses in these small engines. Methodologies are also developed for measuring volumetric, heat transfer, exhaust, mechanical, and combustion losses. These instruments and techniques are used to investigate the performance of seven single-cylinder, two-stroke, glow fueled engines ranging in size from 15 to 450 g (0.16 to 7.5 cm3 displacement). Scaling rules for power output, overall efficiency, and normalized power are developed from the data. These will be useful to developers of micro-air vehicles and miniature power systems. The data show that the minimum length scale of a thermodynamically viable piston engine based on present technology is approximately 3 mm. Incomplete combustion is the most important challenge as it accounts for 60-70% of total energy losses. Combustion losses are followed in order of importance by heat transfer, sensible enthalpy, and friction. A net heat release analysis based on in-cylinder pressure measurements suggest that a two-stage combustion process occurs at low engine speeds and equivalence ratios close to 1. Different theories based on burning mode and reaction kinetics are proposed to explain the observed results. High speed imaging of the combustion chamber suggests that a turbulent premixed flame with its origin in the vicinity of the glow plug is the primary driver of combustion. Placing miniature IC engines on a turbulent combustion regime diagram shows that they operate in the 'flamelet in eddy' regime whereas conventional-scale engines operate mostly in the 'wrinkled laminar flame sheet' regime. Taken together, the results show that the combustion process is the key obstacle to realizing the potential of small IC engines. Overcoming this obstacle will require new diagnostic techniques, measurements, combustion models, and high temperature materials.