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By Robert Rapier on Sep 6, 2007 with 6 responses

World’s Smallest Gasoline Engine

While I try to be very careful about posting hype masquerading as a legitimate technology breakthrough, this story is too good to pass up (even though it contains a lot of hype). I don’t know about the prospects for commercial success (as I have said before, I have been waiting for my DNA computer for 15 years) but this story is interesting and topical:

New mini petrol engine

There is a copyrighted picture at the link showing the engine resting on a fingertip. Some excerpts from the story:

Scientists have built the smallest petrol engine — tiny enough to power a watch.

The mini-motor, which runs for two years on a single squirt of lighter fuel, is set to revolutionise world technology.

It produces 700 times more energy than a conventional battery despite being less than a centimetre long — not even half an inch. It could be used to operate laptops and mobile phones for months on end — doing away with the need for recharging.

Experts believe it could be phasing out batteries in such items within just six years.

I guess that depends on the prospects for mass production. If it takes a team of scientists and engineers to build each one, it won’t be replacing batteries any time soon. And the article mentions nothing about the difficulty of manufacture.

The engine, minute enough to be balanced on a fingertip, has been produced by engineers at the University of Birmingham. Dr Kyle Jiang, lead investigator from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said: “We are looking at an industrial revolution happening in peoples’ pockets.

“The breakthrough is an enormous step forward.

“Devices which need re- charging or new batteries are a problem but in six years will be a thing of the past.”

Other applications for the engine could include medical and military uses, such as running heart pacemakers or mini reconnaissance robots.

Hmm. Not sure I want a combustion engine operating next to my heart, especially in light of:

One of the main problems faced by engineers who have tried to produce micro motors in the past has been the levels of heat produced.

The engines got so hot they burned themselves out and could not be re-used.

The Birmingham team overcame this by using heat-resistant materials such as ceramic and silicon carbide.

Anyway, regardless of whether it pans out, it is an interesting story and a neat technological achievement.

  1. By Mike on August 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Why is there only one picture? Without some macro pics, the article is just words.

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  2. By nik on September 3, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    You say you’re worried about how it says it burns out. The article clearly says that that was the problem with previous engines, a problem that was solved with this one

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    • By HTP on March 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      No. He is worried about the heat that burns the engine out. The heat itself is a problem.

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  3. By John V on February 9, 2011 at 9:21 am

    It is claimed that the heat problem is solved by using heat-resistant materials. So for the pacemaker you have this piece of hot ceramic and silicon carbide inside your chest. The device will need oxygen to burn the fuel and will produce hot exhaust gases. So there are two holes in your chest and under your clothes for intake and exhaust, plus some way to refuel the device. And, unless there is a battery for buffer, the little engine will have to run continuously, including in the shower. So I think we can discount the pacemaker application.

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  4. By Terry Lathangue on August 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I do wonder about the fragility of such a small engine, and whether it could take the rough handling that batteries do. Shock mounting could overcome much of normal rough handling, but if employed in children’s toys, games and other devices, it may be just too fragile. Another concern is, what happens with the exhaust from this little engine? That could really limit it’s usage in many applications!

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  5. By dogdog on September 21, 2011 at 9:53 am

    wait until the enviroWacos start complaints and lawsuits…

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