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Aggies design more efficient car engine

Published: Thursday, July 7, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

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Ravi Garach

Mark Holtzapple, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, shows the outer rotor, which is one of the key internal parts of the StarRotor compressor, on Wednesday.

Seven miles away from Texas A&M is a group of workshops and warehouses. Among them is a manufacturing facility where Mark Holtzapple, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and three former A&M students built the StarRotor engine.

Holtzapple said StarRotor has features that customers want but typical engines don't provide, such as high efficiency in oil consumption, low maintenance, low price and a lasting durability.

"Typical engines are only 15 to 20 percent efficient in consuming oil, as they lose a lot of energy when they emit hot exhaust gas into the air," Holtzapple said. "StarRotor could be 65 percent efficient (in oil consumption), as it releases much less heat."

Holtzapple said that just like every other engine, StarRotor has a combustor, compressor and extender. What makes StarRotor different is a heat exchanger between the compressor and combustor, and a water spray over the compressor. Holtzapple said the heat exchanger preheats gas so the combustor burns less fuel, and the water spray reduces the heat the compressor gives off.

Kyle Ross, an engineer with the StarRotor Corp. who received his doctorate from A&M in 1998, said that because StarRotor is more compact, it allows the engine to last longer and have less maintenance.

"It only has 10 to 20 percent of parts of a typical engine," Ross said. "It costs less to produce, and there is not much up and down piston movement in StarRotor. It just has two rotors, which mean little friction."

Holtzapple said StarRotor is designed to burn any reactive fuel such as diesel, alcohol and even olive oil, rather than a stable fuel such as gasoline. Holtzapple said the engine emits little pollution, as it doesn't emit unburned fuels like a typical engine does.

Andrew Rabroker, an engineer who received his master's from A&M in 2000, said the team has come up with solutions for the technical challenges it encountered, such as gas leakage problems. Rabroker said the group is now working on how to manage the high temperature operation of the engine.

"When a few parts of the machine just came out four years ago, a lot of people laughed," Rabroker said. "They doubted if we could really make it."

Ross said that despite some people's doubts, the group has managed to get investments from private investors, who in turn own a percentage of the company. Ross said the group hasn't considered going to the public to raise funds, because under the regulations of the United States government, it would take half of a million dollars for a company to issue stocks. Additionally, the team wants to wait until more of the StarRotor technologies have been tested and proved.

Holtzapple said the group's job is divided into two parts; the first part is to get job done, and the second part is to let people know about it.

"Now we are working on the first part," Holtzapple said.

Holtzapple said the team has finished producing the compressor of StarRotor, which holds two U.S. patents. Holtzapple said the team expects to have a prototype engine in a year and start selling the engine in five years.

Christopher Ciesielski, a sophomore chemical engineering major, said he is working with the team as an intern this summer. He said he got to know about StarRotor during the spring semester through one of Holtzapple's classes.

"When I heard about the engine, I thought it was very interesting," he said. "After class, I asked Dr. Holtzapple if they would consider having a freshman as an intern to work with them, (and) he said yes. I am glad that I got to be here this summer. (I'm) learning a lot."

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