Later this year, concept evaluation of Freevalve AB’s radical camless engine technology is expected to be completed by Qoros Auto. The technology, known as Qamfree, could lead to volume production, bringing a new dimension to powertrain design and engineering.
Besides Qoros (owned by Chery Automotive), two other OEMs are also understood to be potential adopters of the system.
Freevalve was a sister company of Koenigsegg AB, the Swedish supercar maker, from 2003-2017 and is now independent. Its Qamfree system differs from other camless designs in that it uses pneumatic-hydraulic-electronic actuators (PHEA) to replace the camshaft. Freevalve engineers state that this delivers more precise and completely customizable control over valve duration and lift on both the intake and exhaust sides.
A demonstrator 1.6-L 4-cylinder 16-valve DOHC turbocharged gasoline engine fitted with the system was first seen at the 2016 Beijing Motor Show in a Qoros concept car. Company engineers claimed it demonstrated a 47% increase in power, a 45% increase in torque, and a 15% reduction in fuel consumption compared to a regular camshaft-equipped engine with similar specifications.
Freevalve states that for any engine load criteria, the timing of intake and exhaust can be independently programmed, the system deciding which one to maximize performance or minimize fuel consumption and emissions, depending on driving conditions.
Q&A with the CTO
The engine dispenses with not only the camshaft itself, but also associated hardware: the throttle body, cam drive and timing gear and cover, wastegate, pre-catalytic converter and direct injection systems. It has proprietary valve position sensors. As well as significant weight saving, packaging efficiency gains include 50mm (1.9 in) off the height and 70mm (2.7 in) off the length of a comparable regular unit. Vehicle fuel consumption is reduced by 10% during "normal" driving compared to the baseline engine with normal valvetrain.
Qoros and Freevalve are working together on the concept evaluation, using a fleet of test engines to refine the technology for use in an as yet unspecified Qoros model.
With the concept evaluation phase approaching scheduled completion, AE's European Editor Stuart Birch discussed the new technology and its implications with Freevalve’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Urban Carlson.
Q: Is the Freevalve technology's radical design challenging for the more conservative OEMs?
That is what we expected, but the technical challenges meeting the market demand with coming emission legislations seems to be a stronger factor. We also feel that our concept fits well into the development trends of the combustion engine where people are increasingly interested in developing advanced control strategies. Our fit is that we provide new and powerful parameters to facilitate these needs and wishes.
Q: Some traditional, expensive components are not required for a Freevalve engine, so would its cost be lower than that of a similar capacity regular engine given comparable production volume?
Yes. Without downsizing, the weight saving is around 20 kg [44 lb] for the 1.6-L TC engine and with further optimization in combination with a more compact installation we expect the complete concept to reduce the overall cost. Our cost estimates indicate that our system will be similar to that of a gasoline DI engine, requiring more advanced after-treatment, such as a particulate filter. We expect gasoline engines with the Freevalve system to be significantly cheaper than diesel engines having the same performance.
Q: Apart from Qoros, can we expect to see the technology adopted by any other manufacturers in the near future?
Yes. There is, of course, a lead time for market introduction, but we are working in parallel with projects for several different segments. We expect at least two customers to announce their plans during next year.
Q: Many countries are now indicating that the ICE in new cars is going to be increasingly legislated out of existence in favor of EVs by 2040-2050. Do you see your engine offering an alternative to this radical change?
We can of course not foresee all geopolitical factors, but the ICE as a more general definition can be improved significantly with the Freevalve system applied. Within the transport sector - on road, rail and sea – more focus is directed towards alternative fuels for the ICE. Liquid hydrocarbons are very efficient to store and distribute. With great opportunities for wind and solar based P2G (power-to-gas), as well as great developments within GTL (gas to liquid) technologies, renewable gaseous and liquid fuels will most likely be produced in large quantities within this timeframe.
The Freevalve technology has an important role to play in efficient fuel-flexible engines and in engines switching to other thermodynamic cycles. Even if it is tempting to extrapolate the current EV trends, the long term future of transportation is far from decided.
Q: Can you put some detail on the program such as when did the program start and when is it expected to be completed, what it involves – and how it is progressing?
The concept evaluation, started 2015, is expected to be completed by the end of this year. It has involved torque, power, fuel consumption, emissions as well as packaging and weight optimization for vehicle installation.
Q: Would there be other engine capacities and outputs besides the 169-kW 1.6-L turbo version?
That is a question for the Qoros management to answer. The project we are doing is for the engine platform shown in public in 2016.
Q: Where would the Qamfree be built and do you have any indication of production numbers?
Qoros and Chery build cars and subassemblies only in China as for today. Together they built approximately 400,000 cars in 2016.