FreeValve – a camless engine

Sweden is home to a little known and relatively small automotive manufacturer named Koenigsegg. They may not build a large quantity, but do build some of the most advanced supercars in the world. We’re talking carbon fiber everything, from brake calipers and wheels to the hydraulic dampened, one-piece carbon fiber doors. And for instance, the Regara – a 1500-horsepower, plug-in hybrid that doesn’t have a gearbox. Koenigsegg has a sister company named FreeValve, and the technology that they are working on is very exciting.

They have teamed up with Chinese auto manufacturer Qoros, to produce a 1.6L turbocharged engine using FreeValve technology to produce 230 horsepower and 320Nm of torque. This represents a 47% increase in power, 45% in torque and 15% reduction in fuel consumption, when compared to a traditional camshaft engine with similar specifications.

See, there’s this thing in engines known as a camshaft. It has lobes that rotate, which then, in turn, open and close the valves on the engine as it rotates. It has been in the engine since the beginning of engines. What’s good is that it works. What’s bad is that a camshaft is very analog. Essentially, the valves will never just be open or closed, there will always be an in-between stage that isn’t as efficient as it can be.

The FreeValve engine gets rid of the camshaft and the throttle body, replacing it with pneumatic actuators on top of each cylinder. This engineering break-through gives completely independent control over each cylinder and each valve. If you have four valves, sometimes it only opens two. You can’t do that with a regular camshaft, since the lobes are set to open all the valves. Freevalve can also shut down one cylinder, two cylinders, three cylinders, etc.

Another great aspect is that it can run in a number of performance modes. Due to being electronically controlled, it can be switched on the fly. It is also able to run the Miller Cycle. This is a thermodynamic cycle where the engine may be run as a two- or four-stroke. Running it as a two-stroke at lower revs, would effectively improve power delivery and make 3,000 RPM feel like 6,000. Additionally, it may be run on diesel fuel, gases, or dual fuel. You can’t mix them together and expect it to work, but maybe separate tanks depending on your needs.

So here’s the most impressive part. If this technology was applied to a current engine, it will provide 30 percent more power and torque, and up to 50 percent better economy! It’s also lower and smaller than an engine with a camshaft. So, if built from scratch, a smaller displacement engine can have the power and efficiency to effectively compete with larger engines. Toss a turbocharger on there and wow!

Koenigsegg describes a camshaft as “playing a piano with a broom” while Freevalve is “playing a piano with your fingers. You get a much greater level of control.” And since it’s all independent, one cylinder or actuator can break and the engine can keep working for years.

FreeValve began development in 2000 and is on its sixth generation actuator technology, representing over a decade of development. While Qoros was established in 2007 and has been on the Chinese auto market since 2013.

Qoros will use a fleet of test engines in conjunction with FreeValve to further refine the technology to suit its own vehicle designs prior to mass production in an as-yet unnamed vehicle in the future.

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