Breakthrough Innovations in Internal Combustion Engines

Introduced for the 2018 model year, Nissan/Infiniti has introduced a revolutionary new engine innovation that, for the first time, allows an engine to vary its compression ratio. For background, engines traditionally have either a high compression ratio, for efficiency, or a low compression ratio, tuned for power. However, Nissan has been working for more than 20 years on an engine that can do both- the efficiency of a high compression ratio with the performance of a low compression ratio. They have accomplished an astonishing 10% gain in efficiency compared to similar engines with the same performance, with half the cost of a hybrid system that would give similar gains in efficiency.

The question remains, though, was this a smart innovation to pursue? Companies are aggressively pursuing electrification, Nissan included. This would have been a breakthrough if it were introduced 10 or 15 years ago, but currently the breakthroughs in efficiency come from hybridization and electrification, from all segments of cars, from supercars, to minivans, to hatchbacks. While this could prolong the inevitable disappearance of the internal combustion engine, will it contribute enough to make up for its enormous R&D costs? At over 20 years and over 100 prototypes, Nissan made a long and expensive commitment to this technology. Does it even have 20 years of use in it? Furthermore, could they utilize this technology in new applications, such as truck engines, generators, etc.? Licensing could be a lucrative task if they could make large improvements in industrial engines that have traditional had poor efficiencies. Only time will tell, but this is definitely an innovation to follow closely.

–Ryan Gavin

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