Published: Oct. 29, 2009

MSU receives $2.5 million DOE award to build advanced hybrid engine

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University researchers have received a $2.5 million federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a prototype new engine and generator technology that can dramatically improve efficiencies and reduce costs of electric hybrid vehicles.

The project has the potential to increase automotive fuel efficiency by five times compared to internal combustion engine cars on the road today while reducing costs by 30 percent. About the size of a large cooking pot, the novel, hyper-efficient engine could replace current engine/generator technologies for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The award will allow a team of MSU engineers and scientists, led by Norbert  Mueller, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, to begin working toward producing a vehicle-size engine/generator known as a wave disk generator during the next two years – building on existing modeling, analysis and lab experimentation they have already completed. The WDG uses a turbo combustion “shock wave” technique to efficiently convert gaseous (compressed natural gas or hydrogen) or liquid fuel sources to electrical power. 

Other researchers on the team include Patrick Kwon, professor, mechanical engineering; Tonghun Lee, assistant professor, mechanical engineering; Fang Peng, professor, electrical and computer engineering; Elias Strangas, associate professor, electrical and computer engineering; and Indrek Wichman, professor, mechanical engineering.

“Our goal is to enable hyper-efficient hybrid vehicles to meet consumer needs for a 500-mile driving range, lower vehicle prices, full-size utility, improved highway performance and very low operating costs,” Mueller said. “The WDG also can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 95 percent in comparison to modern internal combustion vehicle engines.”

The small, lightweight unit could replace the automotive internal combustion engine, the radiator/water pump, fuel/air control, transmission and generator found in today’s hybrid vehicles. The result is a hyper-efficient serial hybrid vehicle with very little equipment under the hood.

MSU’s WDG project is one of 37 Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy recently funded by DOE. It was chosen from among more than 3,600 initial concept papers through a rigorous review process, which included input from multiple review panels composed of leading U.S. energy science and technology experts, and ARPA-E's program managers.

Evaluations were based on the potential for high impact on ARPA-E's goals – to develop creative and inventive approaches to transform global energy production and efficiency, while advancing America's technology leadership. It was part of the first round of projects funded under ARPA-E, which is receiving a total of $400 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact.

Click to enlarge

Schematic model of a wave disk engine, showing combustion and shockwaves within the channels.

Schematic model of a wave disk engine, showing combustion and shockwaves within the channels.

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