Bruce Crower has lived, breathed and built hot engines his whole life. Now he’s working on a cool one—one that harnesses normally-wasted heat energy by creating steam inside the combustion chamber, and using it to boost the engine’s power output and also to control its temperature.
“I’ve been trying to think how to capture radiator losses for over 30 years,” explains the veteran camshaft grinder and race engine builder. “One morning about 18 months ago I woke up, like from a dream, and I knew immediately that I had the answer.”
Hurrying to his comprehensively-equipped home workshop in the rural hills outside San Diego, he began drawing and machining parts, and installing them in a highly modified, single-cylinder industrial powerplant, a 12-hp diesel he converted to use gasoline. He bolted that to a test frame, poured equal amounts of fuel and water into twin tanks, and pulled the starter-rope.
“My first reaction was, ‘Gulp! It runs!’” the 75-year-old inventor remembers. “And then this ‘snow’ started falling on me. I thought, ‘What hath God wrought…’”
The “snow” was flakes of white paint blasted from the ceiling by the powerful pulses of exhaust gas and steam emitted from the open exhaust stack, which pointed straight up.
Over the following year Crower undertook a methodical development program, in particular trying out numerous variations in camshaft profiles and timing as he narrowed the operating parameters of his patented six-stroke cycle.
Recently he’s been trying variations of the double-lobe exhaust cams to delay and even eliminate the opening of the exhaust valve after the first power stroke, to “recompress” the combustion gasses and thus increase the force of the steam-stroke.
The engine has yet to operate against a load on a dyno, but his testing to date encourages Crower to expect that once he gets hard numbers, the engine will show normal levels of power on substantially less fuel, and without overheating.
“It’ll run for an hour and you can literally put your hand on it. It’s warm, yeah, but it’s not scorching hot. Any conventional engine running without a water jacket or fins, you couldn’t do that.”
Indeed, the test unit has no external cooling system—no water jacket, no water pump, no radiator; nothing. It does retain fins because it came with them, but Crower indicates the engine would be more efficient if he took the trouble to grind them off. He has discarded the original cooling fan.
So far he has used only gasoline, but Bruce believes a diesel-fueled test engine he is now constructing—with a hand-made billet head incorporating the one-third-speed camshaft—will realize the true potential of his concept.