Advanced Combustion Technologies for ICE Vehicles

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Advanced combustion technologies encompass a range of innovations focused on optimizing the combustion process inside an ICE, leading to improved fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, and enhanced performance. These technologies go beyond traditional spark-ignition and diesel combustion, exploring new approaches to ignite fuel, control the burn, and minimize pollutant formation.

Impact on climate action

Advanced Combustion Technologies significantly reduce emissions from low-carbon ICE vehicles, enhancing their efficiency and performance. By optimizing fuel combustion, it curtails greenhouse gas emissions, fostering a smoother transition towards sustainable transportation. This innovation amplifies the efficacy of low-carbon vehicles, crucially contributing to global climate action goals.


  • Thermodynamics and Fluid Dynamics: Advanced combustion technologies rely on a deep understanding of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics to precisely control the combustion process, optimizing the air-fuel mixture, combustion timing, and pressure to maximize efficiency and minimize emissions.
  • Fuel Injection Strategies: Innovative fuel injection systems, including multi-point injection and direct injection, deliver fuel with greater precision, optimizing the air-fuel mixture and combustion characteristics.
  • Variable Valve Timing and Lift: Variable valve timing (VVT) and variable valve lift (VVL) systems provide greater control over the intake and exhaust valves, allowing for optimization of airflow and combustion timing at different engine speeds and loads.
  • Pre-Chamber Combustion: This technique utilizes a small pre-chamber to initiate a leaner and more controlled combustion process, reducing NOx emissions and improving efficiency.
  • Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI): HCCI combines aspects of both spark-ignition and diesel combustion, auto-igniting a lean and homogeneous air-fuel mixture, resulting in ultra-low NOx emissions and high efficiency.

TRL : Variable (6-8)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Gasoline Compression Ignition (GCI): This technology combines the benefits of gasoline fuel with the high efficiency of compression ignition, promising significant fuel economy improvements and reduced emissions.
  • Reactivity Controlled Compression Ignition (RCCI): RCCI utilizes two different fuels with varying reactivity to control the combustion process precisely, achieving high efficiency and low emissions.
  • Laser Ignition: Using lasers to ignite the air-fuel mixture offers precise timing and control over the combustion process, potentially improving efficiency and reducing emissions.
  • Plasma-Assisted Combustion: Utilizing plasma technology to enhance combustion stability and efficiency, especially for lean-burn engine operation.
  • Advanced Combustion Sensing: Developing new sensors and data analytics techniques to monitor combustion processes in real-time, providing valuable insights for optimizing control strategies and reducing emissions.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Thermodynamic Optimization Techniques
  • Precision Fuel Injection Systems
  • Adaptive Variable Valve Timing
  • Pre-Chamber Combustion Strategies
  • Advancements in Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition
  • Gasoline Compression Ignition Technology
  • Reactivity Controlled Compression Ignition Innovation
  • Laser Ignition Systems
  • Plasma-Assisted Combustion Development
  • Real-Time Combustion Sensing Solutions
  • High-Efficiency Combustion Control
  • Next-Generation Fuel Injection Methods
  • Variable Valve Lift Systems
  • Lean-Burn Engine Optimization
  • Combustion Process Monitoring Innovations
  • Combustion Stability Enhancement Techniques
  • Precision Combustion Timing Control
  • Advanced Combustion Dynamics Analysis

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Mazda:
    • Technology Focus: Mazda is known for its innovative approach to combustion engine design, particularly with their SKYACTIV technology. Their advancements aim to improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and enhance overall performance.
    • Uniqueness: Mazda stands out for its commitment to continuously improving internal combustion engines, despite the growing interest in electric vehicles. Their approach involves optimizing traditional engine designs to achieve better efficiency and lower emissions.
    • End-User Segments: Mazda’s target segments include automotive enthusiasts, eco-conscious consumers, and markets where electric vehicles are not yet widely adopted. They cater to individuals and organizations seeking fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly transportation solutions.
  • Achates Power:
    • Technology Focus: Achates Power specializes in developing opposed-piston engines, a unique type of internal combustion engine design. Their engines offer improved efficiency and reduced emissions compared to traditional designs.
    • Uniqueness: Achates Power’s opposed-piston engine architecture is distinctive, featuring multiple pistons per cylinder and a novel combustion process. This design allows for significant improvements in fuel efficiency and power density.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include automotive manufacturers, commercial vehicle fleets, and industries where high efficiency and low emissions are priorities, such as transportation, logistics, and power generation.
  • ClearFlame Engine Technologies:
    • Technology Focus: ClearFlame Engine Technologies focuses on developing low-emission combustion solutions for heavy-duty engines, particularly in the transportation and industrial sectors. Their innovations aim to enable the use of low-carbon and renewable fuels.
    • Uniqueness: ClearFlame Engine Technologies stands out for its approach of retrofitting existing diesel engines with combustion systems capable of running on alternative fuels like ethanol or biodiesel, thereby reducing emissions without requiring a complete engine overhaul.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include trucking fleets, shipping companies, agriculture, and off-road equipment manufacturers looking to reduce emissions and comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations while maintaining compatibility with existing infrastructure.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Aachen University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Aachen University researchers are focusing on developing advanced combustion technologies for low-carbon ICE vehicles. This includes novel engine designs, fuel injection systems, and combustion control strategies aimed at improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Aachen University’s approach involves a combination of experimental testing and computational modeling to optimize combustion processes in ICE vehicles. They are investigating alternative fuels, such as biofuels and synthetic fuels, and studying their combustion characteristics under different operating conditions.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Aachen University has applications in the automotive industry, particularly for the development of next-generation engines that meet stringent emissions regulations while maintaining performance and affordability.
  • Sandia National Laboratories:
    • Technology Enhancements: Sandia National Laboratories are at the forefront of research on advanced combustion technologies for low-carbon ICE vehicles. They are developing innovative combustion concepts, such as Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) and Reactivity Controlled Compression Ignition (RCCI), to improve engine efficiency and reduce pollutant emissions.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Sandia’s research leverages state-of-the-art experimental facilities and computational tools to explore the fundamental mechanisms of combustion in ICE engines. They collaborate closely with industry partners to transition their findings into practical engine designs and fuel formulations.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Sandia National Laboratories has implications for both light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, as well as other applications such as power generation and marine propulsion. By developing advanced combustion technologies, they aim to accelerate the transition to low-carbon transportation systems.
  • Technical University of Munich (TUM):
    • Technology Enhancements: TUM researchers are exploring advanced combustion concepts and engine configurations to reduce the carbon footprint of ICE vehicles. They are investigating strategies such as lean-burn combustion, exhaust gas recirculation, and waste heat recovery to improve engine efficiency and reduce emissions.
    • Uniqueness of Research: TUM’s approach integrates experimental testing, numerical simulations, and system-level optimization to develop holistic solutions for low-carbon ICE vehicles. They are also investigating the integration of renewable fuels, such as hydrogen and e-fuels, into existing engine platforms to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    • End-use Applications: The research at TUM has applications across the automotive industry, from passenger cars to commercial vehicles and off-road machinery. By developing advanced combustion technologies, TUM aims to contribute to the decarbonization of the transportation sector and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several advanced combustion technologies are already being implemented in commercial vehicles. Mazda’s SKYACTIV-X engine with SPCCI technology is available in several of their production models, and other manufacturers are exploring similar approaches to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. However, technologies like HCCI and RCCI are still under development and require further refinement before widespread adoption.