Split-cycle model may cut costs, double mileage. Justin Hyde - Free Press Business Writer - April 8, 2006 In the back aisles of the Society of Automotive Engineers convention this week, past the displays hawking springs and sprockets, one family's dream began to take shape. Scuderi Group of West Springfield, Mass., didn't have to look far to fill its offices. Salvatore Scuderi, the company's president, has degrees in engineering and law. So does Stephen, his brother, and the company's patent attorney. Another brother, Nick, runs marketing, while a sister, Deborah, handles accounting. Six of the eight Scuderi siblings made the trip to Detroit's Cobo Center, bringing a couple of other relatives along for help, in service of their late father Carmelo Scuderi's invention. The results of the years of work on his ideas were shown on screens above the company's stand: a computer image of an odd-looking engine, its pistons moving in an old-timey stutter step, with an air tank on the side. It's the model for the Scuderi air-hybrid engine, an invention the Scuderis say breaks long-standing barriers to generating more power with less fuel. By their reckoning, a Scuderi engine could power a hybrid vehicle that doubles the fuel economy of a typical vehicle for a fraction of the cost of today's gasoline-electric systems. "We're basically preserving technology that's been around for a century, but we've tweaked it a bit and made it better," Sal Scuderi said. Ahead of the pack Even though they won't have a working prototype until next year, the Scuderis have: Verified their unique engine ideas with outside experts. Raised $8 million to fund their company. Patented their designs in 45 countries. The moves put them several steps ahead of the parade of engine inventors who have made pilgrimages to Detroit over the years touting engineering breakthroughs. Most leave empty-handed, but the Scuderis believe Carmelo Scuderi's ideas are too compelling to ignore. "When our dad did the original design and with every effort we put forward, we go back to thermodynamics. That's everything in an engine," Sal Scuderi said. "A lot of people we deal with are good at understanding how engines work, but they're not good at how thermodynamics work." Over the decades, scores of inventors have tried to make history with new engine designs. Automakers have toyed with alternatives, such as gas turbines and rotary engines in the '50s and '60s or two-stroke engines in the '80s. Yet there are good reasons why Detroit's basketball team calls itself the Pistons instead of the Turbines or the Rotaries. Modern engines have a 120-year head start in engineering on any competitor. Today's engines have doubled their power in the last 20 years with no reduction in fuel efficiency. And the exhaust from a low-emissions vehicle driven on a typical city freeway is cleaner than the air that goes into it. "They have to make a convincing argument they have the best idea," said Anthony Pratt, director of global powertrain forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates. "The biggest challenge they're going to have with their engine is that, it seems so easy, I think a lot of people are going to think it's too good to be true." Any new player "has to have all the costs, which are in the hundreds of millions of dollars to do an engine line, already developed to make it worthwhile," said Casey Selecman, an industry analyst with CSM Forecasting in Northville. Engine divides jobs The Scuderi design revives an evolutionary dead-end in automotive history known as the split-cycle engine. Each piston in a car's engine does four jobs: draw in air, compress it, burn fuel and push out the exhaust. A split-cycle engine divides those jobs between two pistons, one for pulling in air and compressing it, the other for burning fuel and pushing out exhaust. Split-cycle engines were first patented in 1914 but had too many problems to work properly. A similar design did catch on in air compressors, where Carmelo Scuderi made his name over a 50-year career, and where his inventions are still in use today. In retirement, Scuderi began mulling an idea for a vehicle engine. He filed his first patent for an engine in July 2001 and commissioned an engineering study to test the concept in September 2002. One month later, he died at age 77, leaving his work to his children. The results of that study convinced the Scuderis to pursue their father's goal. After more refinements, the Scuderi engine now compresses about 12 times more air than a similar conventional engine, allowing it to produce more power from the same amount of fuel and burn cleaner as well. "He was the true genius," Sal Scuderi said. Improving the efficiency was "the big, big innovation, and, once he did that, all the rest fell into place." Since then, the Scuderis have refined his idea, filed patents around the world and raised money to keep working on the prototype, including a $1.2-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Late last year, Sal was looking over his father's notes and found another invention. Because it moves air between pistons, Carmelo imagined the engine could store spare energy as compressed air instead of in expensive batteries. "The big impact is this is really the only hybrid system that makes sense economically," Sal Scuderi said. "We can make a hybrid system that is more effective than electric hybrids for a few hundred dollars versus several thousand dollars." The Scuderis aren't interested in building their engines but in licensing their designs to any interested company. They're also not interested in comparisons with other inventors who never found success in the auto industry despite years of toil. "The difference is my father," Nick Scuderi said. "He's done it in the past, and he's doing it again."