Like it or not, at least for the near future most of us are stuck with internal combustion engine powered cars. While a lot of hype is behind future cars and technology, from electric to hydrogen to everything in between, a lot of improvements can yet be made on the ICE engine.
To that end, the Department of Energy has awarded GM with $2.7 million to develop a working prototype of a Shape Memory Alloy engine. In theory, this engine could recycle the waste heat and turn it into electrical energy, perhaps one day even replacing alternators and improving fuel efficiency.
You’re probably asking yourself “What is Shape Memory Alloy?” It sounds fancy and futuristic, but has actually been around in one way or another for decades. Very simply put, it is a metal alloy that can be deformed via heat, and return to its original form once it cools down. So how will GM apply this to engines?
The idea is to run exhaust gasses through different loops of SMA, turning an electric generator and thereby producing excess electricity. This surplus of power could then be used to augment an ICE engine with a hybrid drivetrain. As is already known, cars run purely on electric power tend to have their range cut short when certain accessories like air conditioning, heat, or flashing strobes are applied.
The idea of recycling waste heat to produce electric energy on an engine isn’t a new idea either, and $2.7 million is a lot of ching to make a working prototype. Hopefully this isn’t another pipe dream or dead end, though in theory the concept almost seems… sound? GM is partnering with people outside the auto industry to make this happen including Dynalloy Inc. and Smart Materials Collaborative Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan.
We’ll see what happens. Read the next page if you want to see the full press release.