By on November 26, 2016

FreeValve engine (Image: Koenigsegg Automotive AB)

A Swedish company with close ties to a hard-to-spell supercar maker has thrown a wrench into the automotive world, unveiling a production-ready piston engine that doesn’t use a camshaft.

Developed by FreeValve AB, which isn’t a Nordic Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band, the new engine technology ditches a camshaft for other modes of valve actuation, gaining power and efficiency in the process. Unlike some other touted internal combustion engine advancements, this technology already has a customer.

FreeValve’s invention was revealed by the Koenigsegg sister company earlier this year in Beijing, but we didn’t learn much about its efficiency or applications. Now, the technology appears ready for mass production, with a customer ready to test it. The company recently debuted a driveable vehicle equipped with a production-ready FreeValve engine at the Guangzhou Auto Show.

Chinese automaker Qoros plans to test a fleet of vehicles equipped with a 1.6-liter FreeValve engine, which it dubs the “QamFree” motor. The motor uses pneumatic-hydraulic-electronic actuators instead of a camshaft to control valve movement.

“This results is [sic] much more precise and completely customizable control over valve duration and lift, on both the intake and exhaust sides,” Koenigsegg stated in a press release. “This represents a 47% increase in power, a 45% increase in torque and a 15% reduction in fuel consumption when compared to a traditional camshaft engine with similar specifications.”

Qoros plans to refine the technology before using it in a future production model.

Making a reported 230 horsepower and 236 pounds-feet of torque, the 1.6-liter engine is smaller and lighter than a comparable ICE, with lower production costs. Naturally, the technology could appear in future Koenigsegg vehicles. There’s a chance that other automakers, looking to satisfy both environmental regulators and customers, could tap the technology for efficiency and performance gains. Of course, that’s assuming the Qoros tests go smoothly and the automaker adopts the technology.

Certainly, Christian von Koenigsegg, CEO of Koenigsegg Automotive AB and chairman of FreeValve, wants other automakers to bite. The executive claims the technology could go a long ways towards reducing greenhouse gases by the world’s fleet.

“This will be boosted with the eventual widespread adoption of FreeValve technology in the automotive industry,” he said in a statement.

[Image: Koenigsegg Automotive AB]

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58 Comments on “Swedish Company’s Camshaft-free Piston Engine Already Has a Customer...”


  • avatar
    brn

    “47% increase in power, a 45% increase in torque and a 15% reduction in fuel consumption when compared to a traditional camshaft engine”

    I find that VERY difficult to believe.

    • 0 avatar
      EAF

      I would assume the long block, even in a 4-banger, would be much lighter than a traditional DOHC setup. No chains, no rails, no tensioners or gears to speak of. Friction and resistence from valve springs and lifters etc are removed. I could easily imagine a 15% fuel economy increase.

      I agree, the power claims on the other hand!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      Electronically activated valves are something that have been spitballed about for a while, but never produced.
      There’s a number of reasons to see efficency and power gains from this. Without being chained to a pre-carved physical cam lobe, you’re we’re talking about being able to customize the “cam profile” infinitely, on the fly, for any particular engine load and speed. And to top it all off, you can have valve opening and closing much faster than with a physical camshaft, because you’re no longer tied to a bellcurve shaped cam lobe – you can do square waves and anything else your engineers can come up with.

      • 0 avatar
        EAF

        Shut down or activate cylinders at will. I would love to see the mechanism in person.

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          Not that hard I would imagine since the valves are electronically actuated which would be just as easy as cutting off the injector and ignition coil responsible for the cylinder.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          You mean like Honda’s VCM?

          Yeah, because that’s working SO well for them.

          • 0 avatar
            raph

            Seeing as how the camless engine uses essentially a direct acting pneumatic valve its much less complex than the Honda VCM system and just as easily to implement variable displacement capability since the valve actuator just needs to be turned off much like oil flow to the lifter in the pushrod engines.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            @raph-

            Commas, man!

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        You don’t have infinite flexibility. In a traditional setup, while the valve spring does close the valve, the valve still has to follow the cam profile and soft land on the valve seat. You can’t just let it snap shut because it’ll bounce and soon lead to fracture of the valve stem.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          I’m sure the system has some kind of valve closing deceleration protocol.

          Combine this tech with some kind of hybrid system and things will get really interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      motorhead1

      If one truly thinks about their claims they are beyond absurd. If they were even 1/2 true, the OEM’s would be knocking FreeValve’s door down. Building a one-off car is very different than having a fully validated product, and then being able to build the product consistently, cost effectively, and at high volumes. One should also consider if the technology were for real why would FreeValve be wasting time on a Chinese MPFI engine vs. a 4V GDI European engine?

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Those figures seem too good to be true. I’d love to see more detailed technical information.

    If they have indeed invented a better mousetrap then I heartily congratulate them!

  • avatar
    hreardon

    The elimination of the traditional camshaft is one of those things that seems long overdue – and I’ve always suspected that there was a good reason for sticking with the traditional system.

    This is one of those situations where it would be great to hear from people in the industry who might be able to provide some insight.

  • avatar

    I see the skeptics got up early this morning.

    I don’t see why more power, more torque, less fuel is so difficult to comprehend. Each of the valves is totally independant and under electronic control. There are limits to what you can do with a rotating camshaft, and once set the time a valve stays open or closed is fixed per rotation. Anything is possible under electronic control, it is no longer fixed and totally dynamic.

    I also suspect that the manufacturer has measured power, torque and fuel consumption on some test cycle. Such that greater power is truly available, and lower fuel consumption is possible when the car is idling or decelerating. I doubt less fuel is used when the engine is at maximum power or torque, but over a typical drive cycle, less fuel consumption is possible when the engine goes into fuel miser mode when that extra torque and power isn’t being demanded of the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      It’s not the fact that gains are realized, it’s the magnitude of the gains that are being claimed that is tough to believe.

      Evidence is key. The joy of being evidence-based is that we don’t have to believe or disbelieve. We just have to see evidence backing up the claims.

      • 0 avatar
        notwhoithink

        When I hear the description I think of Honda’s VTEC system. If my understanding is correct, when you hit the higher points on the power curve the VTEC engine engaged a second set of cam profiles/timing than it was running at the lower end of the power curve (this is probably a gross oversimplification). So basically the engine was operating in two different modes, one balanced for normal driving and one balanced for more aggressive driving. Mot of us understand that you can swap out the camshaft in a car for one with a more aggressive profile and get performance gains. Going to an electro-pneumatic system would allow you to do the same thing, on the fly, only with a nearly infinite (or at least truly massive) set of possible timing profiles. This would, in theory, allow the computer to adjust the timing on the fly to provide greatly enhanced power when it was needed or greatly increased fuel economy when it was needed. It all seems perfectly plausible to me.

        And don’t forget that if you don’t have camshafts then there’s a lot of related hardware that you don’t need to install in the engine, reducing inertia/rotating weight and further increasing efficiency.,

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Yep- nearly infinite, analogous to how a CVT is also (nearly) infinite.

          The torque-rpm curve should be a lot flatter, but that is achieved in a more elegant way than mapping boost-rpm and controlling that with a wastegate.

          Next few questions are:
          How much does this cost (rather, how much will it cost when mass produced)?
          Endurance testing (how long will it last in service)?
          Maintenance requirements?

          Of course, these are open ended questions. This is somewhere between the proof-of-concept stage and development engines.

          • 0 avatar
            hreardon

            This is one of those “no duh” technologies that again, makes me wonder why another major manufacturer hasn’t rolled this out into the mainstream yet.

            I suspect that the primary reason is the issue of endurance and reliability. Camshafts are relatively simple and I suspect, highly reliable for the most part. I wonder if under careful study in the real world the camless design still doesn’t have that same level as the olde timey setup?

  • avatar
    Fred

    Maybe similar to long time F1 technology
    http://scarbsf1.com/valves.html

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      That’s what I was thinking. F1 has been using pneumatic (and or hydraulic) systems like this for years.

      The only downside is because there is no physical connection between the valves and piston failure is simply not an option since the cylinder could easily strike the valve. Having a traditional spring setup does allow for some safety in which if the system fails the valve is automatically pulled away. I imagine with modern electronics you could just use electromagnets to position the valves accurately and quickly. Its actually kind of amazing we are still using mechanical systems to move a valve. They are small and light, thus moving them shouldn’t be difficult.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        F1 still uses camshafts. The pneumatic valve springs just close the valves like normal valve springs, but the are able to achieve spring rates that prevent valve float at those crazy speeds. This is because of rules however, and they would likely have some sort of camless system otherwise.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I am optimistic about it, it could be the ICE’s saving grace. I’d like to see a wide implementation, if its as good as promised.

  • avatar
    RHD

    It’s very likely that the electronic valves in the engine pictured above will not function at all… unless someone at Freevalve AB remembers to reconnect the ground cable to the battery.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Now we need this tech to filter down to a set of aftermarket heads for a Small Block Chevy! It is cool stuff though. Long live Internal Combustion!

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Reciprocating mass (on many levels and at many stages) creates huge parasitic drain & causes massive inefficiencies.

    I am not sure if these stwtements/conclusions have any relevancy in the context of the camshaft free engine, but I think they sound real good.

  • avatar
    George Taramas

    Camless technology already exists thanks to FPT (fiat powertrain technologies).
    The MULTIAIR engines dont have a camshaft for the in the intake valves. Instead they use a hydraulic system.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      MULTAIR still relies on a camshaft for actuation. There is a hydraulic link between the cam lobe and valve that enables customization of the lift profile within the context of the cam’s profile. Not quite there yet, but close.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        Yea, tech like valvetronic and multi air are still incremental evolutions from VCT and VTEC. If this called setup proves durable and reliable in the real world, it could set the industry on its head.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Here’s a more thorough explanation of the engine:

    youtube.com/watch?v=S3cFfM3r510

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Good link!

      It explains a bit about how the valve control lets them boost the heck out of a high compression engine (allowing such impressive torque and output), how they have better control over some of the finer points of emissions management, and overlooking the obvious but get rid of the throttle plate makes a big difference to part throttle, er, low power efficiency (control output using valve timing/opening).

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      It’s cool how little he can make the engine. More room for cab-forwarding.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That video made a believer out of me, but I’d like to see it running.

      And I wonder how they’re protecting the intellectual property.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        I’m guessing the intellectual property is some esoteric details about either actuating the valves or feedback sensors to tell the controller exactly what the valves are doing.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    Did I hear “shoot flames back to the cat”? Yeah, the aftermarket will go wild.

    Regardless, Smokey Yunick is cackling from the grave right now.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    I am more then willing to accept Mr. Ks claims. Remember that each of the claims would be an independent setup, so that max mileage, or max power would be the goal but not both. So it is very possible that all of the claims stand up.

    The one item that makes or breaks the invention is will it last 100,000 miles without having to be repaired under normal operating conditions? I do like the elimination of all the mechanical bits, which allows for a lighter and better design block and head. I do not remember seeing cost estimates but I am old enough to remember FI being too expensive for “ordinary” cars. Much less direct injection and turbos on everything.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      This type of technology comes around every 15 or so years. In the early 90’s it was Aura with their spring electric valves. They licensed the technology to BMW, Chrysler and others. Navistar was said to have a camless diesel design that they would market in 2007. In the mid 2000’s Valeo had a similar design. Now Cargine (Free Valve). The technology always sounds good never gets out of the lab.

      freevalve.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Cargine-Free-Valve-Actuator-G5-Specification-2012-09-291.pdf

  • avatar
    Commando

    It will never survive the reliability testing of any of the major car manufacturers.

    So don’t ever think about buying a Toyota Camfree some day.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    If I race here tomorrow
    Would you still remember me
    For I must be revvin’ on now
    There’s too many turns I got to see

    If I play here with you Chris
    Things just wouldn’t be the same
    ‘Cause you run free with the valves now
    And these valves you cannot change
    Oh oh oh oh oh
    And my valves you cannot change
    And my valves you cannot change
    Lord knows I can’t change

    Bye bye Chris it’s been a sweet race, yeah yeah
    Though I’ve been feelin’ you won’t change
    Please don’t take it so badly
    ‘Cause Lord knows, you love your flame

    But if I stay here with you Chris
    Life just couldn’t stay the same
    ‘Cause you’re so free with your valves now
    And my valves you cannot change
    Oh oh oh oh oh
    And my valves you cannot change
    And my valves you cannot change
    Lord knows, I can’t change
    Lord help me I can’t cha-a-a-a-a-a-a-ange

    Lord I can’t change
    Won’t you re-e-v high yeah yeah

  • avatar

    I doubt that VW/Audi will ever be able to adopt it. They cannot even manage to make ignition coils to last over 10K miles which for other manufacturers is a nonissue. But think about possibilities for cheating this technology would provide – makes it difficult to pass for VW. But on the other hand – forget about it – VW goes all electric, pistons sound so 20th century like airplanes from WWII era.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    How long can a cam system go? Almost 500,000 miles in one of our company trucks. In physics, there is no free lunch. Whatever actuates the valve is susceptible to failure. Who wants to beta test it?

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    There is no free lunch. In a traditional engine there is parasitic loss, there will also be losses in maintaining the pressure to operate a pneumatic value system as well. It’s just a matter of degree.

    However, if you look at the applications if the F-1 pneumatic systems or Ducati’s “spring-less” desmo system, the benefits are in raising the max rpm limit, not in efficiency per say.

    • 0 avatar
      John

      That might possibly be where the huge horsepower and torque increases come from – from raising the engine’s redline. In a conventional ICU, valve float is the limiting factor in max rpm. If the redline is raised by 50%, power would probably follow suit.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    “The executive claims the technology could go a long ways towards reducing greenhouse gases by the world’s fleet.”

    Oh good, then I can get a bigger vehicle!

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    this will take awhile to trickle down to the reliable daily driver.
    probably 10 years. this, along with the higher pressures that DI system are escalating to could really wring a lot of power out of some engines.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      but of course, as people are pointing out: the closer to the edge you push the engine, the more fragile it becomes.

      Dragsters are a great example.

      Now how far do you want to push the engine in Aunt Jane’s Civic? Shoot, already Honda’s screwed up badly with the VCM thing coming on the heels of not one but TWO horrible transmission engineering FAILURES. You want them messing with something like this?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    The concept of totally controllable valve profiles is awesome.

    One big challenge is failure modes that are non-damaging.
    Also generating the pneumatic pressure for actuation isn’t free (either in hardware or power loss) and air systems are definitely sensitive to temperature and contamination issues.

    Will be interesting to see if this makes it past the science project phase.

  • avatar
    Click REPLY to reload page

    Somehow, I see a convergence between this technology and self-driving cars, in which one suddenly not working creates a situation that the other can not safely handle.

    I hate to be a skeptic, no, wait, I am proud to be a skeptic… but self-driving cars will have to be able to handle the outrageously unlikely weird stuff that happens on roadways and near them, as well as all sorts of sudden and unpredictable mechanical failures that a human could figure out in a fraction of a second and react appropriately to.

    And could a self-driving car back a boat on a trailer up a driveway? Could it adapt to the situation of towing another car on a dolly?

  • avatar
    motormouth

    I interviewed Christian Von Koenigsegg sometime around 2009 in his lair/bunker/HQ in Sweden (I think it was in Angelsholm, but not bothered to search it). He showed me the early prototypes of these valves, how they’d reduced the size of each unit over successive generations. The tech was already being tested in an old Saab 900, which I hammered around the test track.

    I mentioned this only as a pointer to how long this has been in dev, it’s not something that they just dreamed up in July. I always remembered checking it out and wondered if it would, one day, make it to market. I reckon it’s the real deal and actually could result in something close to the quoted savings.

  • avatar
    nichjs

    Should make for some interesting failures on interference engines…

    Instead of the reliability being in a timing mechanism (very reliable*, particularly if maintained on schedule), you’re relying on 8+ individual actuators…

    *unless you’re the tensioner on a BMW 1.6l petrol engine, which grenaded on me @60k miles writing the car off. BMW told me it was a known fault, and that the previous owner had had the “remedial work” completed, thus they were morally exonerated. c0cks. But I’m totally over it.


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