GM to Debut HCCI Sparkless Technology on Opel Insignia
By Chris Haak
According to Motor Authority, GM’s new Opel Insignia (which is its replacement for the Vectra, and will also become the next Saturn Aura in the US) will be the first GM vehicle to feature HCCI sparkless ignition technology. It is not clear if the next Saturn Aura will also feature the HCCI technology at its launch.
HCCI, which stands for homogenous charge compression ignition, gives gasoline engines a 15% efficiency boost compared to a conventional engine with spark plug ignition. Due to the technology’s infancy and some limitations that have not been overcome, the HCCI ignition will only work from idle speeds up to about 55 miles per hour; beyond 55 or under increased load/power situations, conventional spark ignition would be employed to power the vehicle.
HCCI is basically a combination of gasoline and diesel engine technology; diesel engines also combust their fuel via compression ignition and not a spark plug. However, HCCI has the advantage of using gasoline instead of diesel fuel, and also the ability to combine the best traits of both gasoline engines (higher-RPM power, smoother and quieter operation, cleaner emissions) and diesel engines (low-end torque, fuel economy).
GM isn’t the only manufacturer developing HCCI technology; Mercedes-Benz has shown its so-called DiesOtto technology (which is basically the same idea) at some auto shows. In demonstrations, a DiesOtto-powered S-class sedan achieved 39 miles per gallon. Volvo and Volkswagen are also investigating HCCI technology.
To get an idea of how compression ignition works, think back a few decades before sophisticated electronic fuel system controls were widespread in automobiles. Have you ever heard a car engine that had just been turned off “dieseling” – basically, continuing to run, albeit roughly, on its own? That’s compression ignition.
The challenges for engineers include developing sophisticated engine control computers to effectively harness the process, as well as improving upon its refinement.
Personally, I’m excited to see developments such as HCCI on the immediate horizon. When combined with other fuel-saving technologies (forced induction, direct injection, six-speed transmission, and more), perhaps there is hope that we won’t all have to drive subcompact cars to either meet increasingly strict fuel economy standards, and might still be able to afford to fill our gas tanks ten years from now.
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