By on December 14, 2017

2019 Corvette ZR1

General Motors has recently filed a patent that could point to the future of the company’s high-performance offerings, including the C8 Corvette.

After 18 months in review by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, documents published on October 24, 2017, reveal GM has been granted a patent for an internal combustion engine with elevated compression ratio and multi-stage boosting.

The document describes a propulsion system made up of a high compression internal combustion engine that uses a low-flow supercharger in combination with a high-flow turbocharger, linked to “one or more electric motor/generators.”

It gives us an interesting look at how GM engineers plan to continue producing obscene performance cars like the Corvette ZR1 and Camaro ZL1 1LE in a world of increasingly stringent emission regulations. 

The illustrations depict a longitudinally mounted four-cylinder engine, but GM claims the thinking disclosed could be applied to engines with larger cylinder counts as well.

GM engine patent

Typically, street legal engines using forced induction operate below a 10.5:1 compression ratio in order to mitigate the effects of pre-detonation. High compression and forced induction don’t usually mix because the extra air-fuel mixture crammed into the cylinder by the turbo or supercharger can ignite prematurely as a result of the elevated cylinder temperatures generated by higher compression ratios.

In order to make high-compression ratios and forced induction viable for an engine that must meet federal requirements, GM is proposing an extreme variation of the Atkinson-cycle – using late intake valve closing to allow some of the air-fuel mixture to escape and eliminate the risk of pre-detonation.

Where GM’s patent differs from other Atkinson-type applications is the length of time the intake valves would be kept dwelling at peak lift.  In the document GM proposes two different methods for generating peak lift for an extended period of time – simple cam lobe profiling in combination with a variable-ratio rocker arm between the valve stem and the cam lobe; or an electro-hydraulic actuator which could replace the conventional camshaft.

Using the cam and rocker solution, GM would employ a “generally flat” portion of the cam lobe that would interact with the variable-ratio rocker arms to jam the intake valve open for a slightly extended period of engine rotation.

The rocker arms would include their own rotatable cam-shaped roller, which could alter the duration of peak lift dwell from substantial to insignificant. In another variation, a more traditional cam lobe could interact with a cam follower to achieve the same effect.

Like conventional engines with variable cam and valve technology, the position of the cam and rollers could be changed by high-pressure streams of oil shot by phasers. Using this method, GM claims the intake valves could be kept at peak lift for an extra 20 degrees of cam rotation.

Should GM replace the camshaft with a hydraulic or mechanical actuator, the ECU would offer much greater control over the valvetrain. The document claims peak intake dwell could be achieved for 5-80 degrees of crankshaft rotation, which is just shy of a quarter rotation, or nearly one full cycle.

GM claims using either solution would yield compression ratios for forced induction engines between 11 and 16:1. To put that in perspective, methanol-fueled drag racing engines typically run a 15:1 compression ratio, while Formula 1 cars operate at 17:1. It’s unclear if GM intends to use the system to offer variable compression ratios like other automakers have proposed.

The document also includes new thinking on twincharging and the application of boost pressure. GM says the supercharger could be driven by either the crankshaft or a dedicated electric motor, with the blower’s speed managed by a continuously variable transmission that would control the supercharger independent of engine RPM.

Meaning the CVT could keep the supercharger pegged at peak boost if necessary, or spooled for low-RPM acceleration before the turbocharger clicks on above 3,000 RPM, when enough high-flow exhaust would be available to feed the impeller. The multi-boosted system could be capable of operating sequentially or in tandem based on what the vehicle’s ECU wants, which will, in turn, depend on if it’s been programmed for performance or economy.

It’s unclear how GM plans to apply the thinking delineated in the patent, but considering the high-performance potential of the proposed system, this could be our first inkling of what’s going to motivate the hybridized mid-engine Corvette.

[Images: General Motors, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office]

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7 Comments on “Patent Reveals GM Is Working on a High-compression, Twin-turbocharged, Hybrid Powertrain...”

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    My suspicion is this is the last piece needed for Voltec-on-Russian-Olympian-Class-Steroids:

    The Volt drivetrain is really really nice from a driveability and cost standpoint compared to all other PHEV solutions (no gazillion-speed transmission, just two clutches. Yes, you have the battery pack, but that is getting better each year, and any PHEV has the battery pack cost).

    And electric overall is just great for real world driving: tons of torque off the line and, critically, zero lag which makes it feel even “faster”.

    But if you could get another 100hp out of the gas engine (and then do corresponding up-sizing of the two electric motors and/or add a rear electric motor) you would have one hell of a truck/SUV engine that would gain a huge amount in efficiency and be better to drive at the same time.

    If you do this with a electrically driven Turbo/Supercharger on 2L 4-banger, you are basically talking an F1-style ERS-H. When you need power you can push more air into the engine, and once the engine spools up, you can then take the waste heat and shove it back into the batteries, boosting efficiency by a good bit.

    So developing an engine timing approach that could be compatible with this sort of design at reasonably low RPM would be the one piece you’d need to build a very compact FWD power unit that, when combined with a single rear drive motor, could enable a PHEV Silverado or Suburban.

  • avatar

    I’m unclear on how this patent addresses the “increasingly stringent emissions regulations”. It looks like an effort to get more power from a smaller engine, probably needing premium fuel with an octane rating above 91. I’ve seen 93 octane premium, but not in many places. Could this be for a racing program and not a production car?

  • avatar

    The era of ICE complacency, fueled by the abundance of fossil fuel and steady profits, is officially over.

    Our collective and long overdue resolution to improve and progress the basic conversion of chemical energy into forward motion has, by any reckoning, been irreversibly catapulted forward by the compounding forces of sustainability and technology.

    Color me excited.

    • 0 avatar

      I heard a guy make the opposite argument, but not with the same language. He said,”The dang government is tryin’ to force carmakers to make cars they want us to drive instead of what we customers want to drive, dadgumit!”

  • avatar

    Just because a company gets a patent on something doesn’t mean they will actually produce a product that uses it. GM gets over 1000 patents a year….

  • avatar

    If someone else like the Koenigsegg Free Valve or the Qoros Qamless people decide to give the intake valve(s) an opening profile similar to this, who is going to stop them? A GM lawyer?

    GM is patenting a particular system and valve lift and duration variability which doesn’t seem very novel to me. I’ve read of the above two small Scandinavian companies doing exactly this, quick open to full lift that is sustained. Or anything in between. So what’s new here really? Not much. Typical patent overreach in the claims. Good luck suing someone else who’s been at something similar for years. Prior art and all.

    The physical compression ratio remains the same, the expansion ratio changes as in all Atkinson or Miller cycles, where one can fiddle with the amount of air let in a cylinder and then sometimes some is pushed back into the intake manifold. Or not if one limits intake valve opening timing. If the variable CR is just being quoted because the intake charge varies in mass compared to what a “normal” system would admit at those revs, then a weak case can be made for the nomenclature, but all Atkinson cycles pull that same trick off.

    There are other ways that maximize volumetric efficiency and expansion ratio like the VW Brudack cycle used on the new Tiguan’s 2.0t engine, and Mazda do something not dissimilar on their CX-9 turbo engine but without variable lift except at cold start. Doubt that parallel versus series compression using a supercharger and turbocharger hasn’t been tried before. It’s that obvious. Volvo uses one or the other on the 316 hp engine; can’t be bothered looking up which it is.

    The only novel thing I see is using a CVT for the supercharger drive. With the new 48V systems the Germans are coming up with to use an electro-turbocharger – Daimler claims 70,000 rpm in 0.30 seconds from stop in the electro-turbo in the new M256 engine, doing it mechanically on the supercharger instead is indeed novel. And that’s about it.

    The 48 volt electric assistant turbo spin up systems will likely win as the technology is virtually off the shelf from Continental now. No mechanical CVT required, thus cheaper.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I read it as a regular powertrain CVT managing the boost – not the blower being spun by a CVT.

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