The Green Pavillion at the Geneva Motor Show looked to the future of motoring
The green future at Geneva Motor Show
Off at the end of the main halls, a tiny room with signs that read "Pavilion Vert" (Green Pavillion) was the scene of what many people at the booths located there hoped would represent the future of motoring. The room was filled with quirky, oddly shaped electric vehicles - hence the "green" in the pavilion's name - built by small but optimistic companies looking to make the big time with their electric creations.
The vehicles ranged from small electric bicycles to larger motorcycles to cars no larger than a golf cart. There were cars named the Weez, the Mooville and the Twizy; the Tilter was half-car, half-motorcycle, with an enclosed body that leans into turns. All were powered by an electric motor and batteries.
But in one booth off in the corner of the room, there was no cute little car or bike on display; a silver sphere slightly larger than a basketball sat on a table, beside what appeared to be an exploded model of its innards. The device was a revolutionary new type of petrol engine that, if it works as its inventor claims, could change the way we power cars on our roads.
"The kugels inside are guided very elegantly in their tracks. Outside, the whole form of the machine is of a kugel also; kugels inside, kugel outside. That's why we call this a Kugelmotor."
That's how HC Herbert Hüttlin, the silver-haired, slight-of-stature inventor of this unorthodox engine, describes his creation. Kugel, if you don't know, is German for "ball" or "sphere". Inside the silver sphere, the petrol engine is coupled with an electric motor to create what Hüttlin calls the Hüttlin Range Extender.
The engine's design is simple, but describing its movement isn't. Inside the aluminium spherical housing is a rotor, which itself houses the pistons and rotates in large ring bearings; instead of connecting rods, the pistons hold titanium balls (kugels) that travel in wormhole-like guides in the rotor. The pistons move back and forth around an axis with conventional petrol combustion, and as they do so they force the rotor to spin around them because of the balls moving in the specially curved guides.
Take my word for it, it's amazing. And simple.
"It's a three-dimensional movement; very simple. A conventional four-piston engine has more than 250 parts," says Hüttlin, "but this one has just more than 60, so it's much simpler. It would mean cheaper production costs and more reliability.
"It's also more efficient; regular combustion engines are less than 20 per cent efficient [losing energy to noise, heat and friction], but this engine is more than 30 per cent efficient."
The spinning rotor would be the magnetic rotor of an electric motor, spinning inside a stator that could either generate electricity - ie, as a range extender for an electric car - or act as a motor to supplement the Kugelmotor's power.
This example has a displacement of 1,200cc and a power output of 78kW, or about 104hp. The design could be scaled up or down to almost any displacement, but Hüttlin says because it is so efficient it will use less fuel and have fewer emissions than a similar-sized conventional petrol engine.
Hüttlin comes across as a quiet yet enthusiastic inventor type, and indeed, René Lang, Innomot's chief executive who introduced Hüttlin, couldn't hold back his admiration for the German. "I can tell you he's a genius. A real genius."
So far, Hüttlin, who lives in Germany, and Innomot, the Swiss company of which he is a majority owner, have spent more than €100,000 (Dh598,000) developing the engine, but instead of building it they plan to grant the licence to build it to automotive and industrial companies.
"It was much work for a long time," said Hüttlin. "It came to me not out of a flash, but over a long period of time. There was more perspiration than inspiration."
The Geneva show is the Kugelmotor's debut to the public, and on the first day alone, Hüttlin says his patented engine has been raising a few eyebrows.
"Ja, many auto companies have walked by and talked with us about it. Nothing is set yet, but there is a great interest in it."