Back in August, Lotus and Jaguar began a project, named "Omnivore," that was aimed at changing the way we think about the internal combustion engine. The engineers planned on beginning with a two stroke engine, rather than the four stroke we are used to, and redesigning it to work efficiently in their vehicles. Skip forward a few months, and now the Lotus/Jaguar team has put their "Omnivore" engine on display for the world to see.
First off, let's look at the two stroke engine we all know and love. They are horribly inefficient, dirty and produce a staggeringly high amount of harmful emissions. While this may be true, they are also able to produce more power, thanks to more power strokes per turn of the crank, and therefore can be made smaller and lighter. See the benefit? But, how do we take that and make it useful for automotive purposes?
By adding things like direct injection and a variable compression ratio, the traditional two-stroke can be engineered to perform more like a four stroke, without the added weight and loss in power. In fact, the combination of technologies found in the Omnivore actually returns a greater efficiency than our best four-strokes.
At the top of the Omnivore is a system that can vary the compression ratio inside the cylinder. Thanks to this, it can be optimized to run on pretty much anything you put into the tank. Another useful effect of the variable compression is that there will no longer be that blue cloud of smoke and gallons of wasted fuel. By increasing the compression ratio, fuels will be burned more completely, increasing efficiency and decreasing emissions.
The Omnivore was also designed as a mono-block, meaning the head and block are one solid piece. In doing this, the durability of the engine has been increased and the parts that would normally needed replaced have been removed.
Currently the Omnivore is only a 1 cylinder, but you have to start somewhere, right? If the engineers at Lotus and Jaguar are able to completely adapt this technology for use in automobiles, it could very well be the end of the days when the four stroke is the only engine on the road.
GM Insider News , Jalopnik , HowStuffWorks