Lotus Engineering is to adapt its active valve train engine technology for the mass market.
The UK company has signed a licensing agreement with US automotive supplier Eaton to develop AVT for production. The technology is expected to bring improvements in fuel economy and engine emissions, and simulations have shown that for conventional engines the improved efficiency increases torque by up to 10 per cent.
Lotus said an undisclosed major European vehicle manufacturer has already signed up to take the AVT system that has been reconfigured for production for one of its vehicles.
Lotus originally developed AVT for research. The electro-hydraulic system, which replaces the camshaft, allows valve lift, as well as the opening and closing, to be varied at will. The ability to change the valve profiles in the engine at the stroke of a key enabled research to be carried out into the combustion cycle and process to improve efficiency and cut emissions. The development of AVT has also opened the door to controlled auto-ignition, which cuts nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 90 per cent.
Lotus sold 11 AVT systems to various research organisations.
The technology, which uses high-specification components, is now to be reconfigured for the mass market. Prior to the announcement of the Eaton deal, the two companies had been working on a new valve system to replace some the of the high specification components used on the research engines.
Jamie Turner, Lotus senior technical specialist, said a simpler valve system could be used, allowing half of the hydraulic controls to be stripped away. While the valve would still be opened as normal, it could be closed instead by a spring, making the technology much cheaper.
Lotus and Eaton both said that they hope to have vehicles demonstrating AVT within two years and have a system in production and ready for delivery by 2008.
The improvement in efficiency and cut in emissions that AVT is said to offer will be important to car makers as they face increasingly stringent legislative standards that will come into effect towards the end of the decade.