Rotary vs Traditional Engines
The rotary engine is one of the more interesting powertrain technologies to appear in the last century. While it continues to undergo research and development, primarily featured on concept models, it never caught on as a viable alternative to the traditional combustion engine. No new car currently on the road relies on a rotary engine, but it’s too soon to rule out its eventual return. Let’s take a look at what separates rotary engines from traditional gasoline engines.
How Does a Rotary Engine Work?
Exactly how does a rotary engine work? Instead of using pistons like a traditional engine, a rotary engine relies on a triangular rotor located in a single housing. The rotor spins in a pattern reminiscent of a Spirograph, drawing fuel and air into the chamber, expanding it, and turning it into useful power, all though one mechanism and motion.
Advantages of the Rotary Engine
Rotary engines utilize significantly fewer moving parts than a traditional engine, making them largely immune to major failures. These engines are also able to maximize the power of displacement, allowing a relatively small engine to produce impressive levels of horsepower. For that reason, this type of engine has often been used in smaller, sport-oriented models.
Disadvantages of the Rotary Engine
There are a few reasons that rotary engines never fully, or even significantly, competed against their traditional counterparts. For one, they are hard to optimize for efficiency and rarely deliver the gas mileage you would expect from smaller engines. They also have a tendency to quickly burn oil. While they are don’t often fail entirely, smaller problems are common, and can be expensive and difficult to fix. Rotary engines also produce notoriously small amounts of torque in comparison to regular gasoline and diesel engines.
What is the Future of the Rotary Engine?
Mazda is the only major automaker that ever made a major commitment to the rotary engine, but the last production model to feature one was discontinued following the 2011 model year. Lately, the automaker seems to have replaced rotary engines in lieu of their new SKYACTIV engine technology.
There have been indications, however, that new applications for the technology are in development, particularly as a power supplement for hybrid models. What the future holds for the rotary engine is anyone’s guess, but it will always have its enthusiasts, and forever remain a fascinating mechanical alternative to the traditional engine we have become so used to.