From Autocar Magazine, Week ending 17th December 1970.
Rolls-Royce Make A Wankel
Original two-stage diesel design
By J. R. Daniels, BSc
Alone among British firms, Rolls-Royce have shown an abiding interest in the Wankel principle. After six years of research. details are revealed which shows the originality of their work and its promise for the future
WE have long deplored the fact that Britain's motor industry has chosen, by and large, to ignore the Wankel engine. By following a policy of masterly inactivity they may be saving development effort and leaving themselves the option of taking up the rotary engine if it becomes really attractive; but this sort of approach is at present tightly controlled by the licensing arrangements centred on NSU. The only two British licence-holders to date are Perkins and Rolls-Royce, and only Rolls have done any serious development work. For a long time their approach was shrouded in secrecy, except for whispers that their thinking was highly original and intended primarily for application to military vehicles.
Details of their six—year development programme, however, have recently been given in a paper delivered to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers by F. Feller, C Eng, MIMechE. The story is something of a classic, starting with basic research on modified NSU engines and culminating in the design of a 350 bhp engine for military vehicle use. Even at this stage, Rolls-Royce regard the story as only half-written; much more development will be needed before the projected engine becomes a full production unit, even for the Army, while commercial prospects are even farther off.
The basic Rolls requirement was for an engine of small size and low fuel consumption. Existing standards were set by the opposed—piston two—stroke, and it was decided in 1964 by the Military Vehicles Engineering Establishment that it would be worth trying the Wankel engine as a diesel, for the sake of economy and the ability to operate on a wide range of fuels.
In fact, the Wankel in its familiar form makes a poor diesel. Its geometry makes it difficult to obtain a high enough compression ratio, and the long, thin combustion chamber has a poor surface—to—volume ratio (which results in high heat losses and poor combustion). Changing the geometry to push up the compression ratio results in a much bigger engine and an even worse surface-to-volume ratio, and so another solution was sought. The obvious answer was to pre—compress the ingoing air, by means of a Roots blower, a turbocharger, or a positive-displacement unit. Since the Wankel is itself a positive-displacement machine, the most elegant solution was to run two Wankels in series, as it were, with the first merely serving as a compressor for the second, in which combustion would take place. The first unit would then complete the thermodynamic cycle by acting also as the expansion stage for the exhaust gases.
The compressor stage must actually be larger than the combustion stage, since the initial compression depends directly on the relative size of the two units. In effect, one chamber of the compressor feeds air into the much smaller chamber of the engine proper. The basic compression ratio of the combustion stage is thus multiplied by the ratio of the displacements of the two units.
Physically, the compressor does not have to be very much bigger than the engine to give a multiplication of two or three. Together, the two-stage engine turns out to be little bigger than the equivalent single—stage one (since, as already explained, the latter must be made much bigger to obtain the same compression ratio). At the same time, the two-stage engine has a much better——i.e. lower surface—to-volume ratio.
Work was thus concentrated on the two-stage layout, with a three-rotor design as a back-up. This had separate rotors of simpler design to serve as the inlet compression and exhaust expansion stages. In the event, this alternative was not needed, but after a period in engineering limbo it is now being studied as an advanced exercise by the Royal Military College of Science.
Aside from the design of the two-stage engine, a great deal of basic research has been done on both combustion and on apex seal design. The combustion research resulted from the decision to use direct fuel injection rather than to` have a pre-combustion chamber in the wall of the rotor housing; there were. several design disadvantages, including leakage past the tip seals and difficult starting, which overruled the possible advantages of pre—combustion.
Combustion conditions in a Wankel are very different from those in a conventional reciprocating engine. Instead of the nice, stable column of air in the centre of the combustion chamber, and the very low piston speed around top dead centre when the fuel injection takes place, the chamber and its charge of air are travelling past the injector very fast indeed. These conditions are not necessarily worse for combustion; it was just that the engineers were working in a field where very little was known, compared with the extensive work which had been done on the reciprocating engine. Such work as had been done on the Wankel related to the petrol-burning, spark—ignition engine.
Using a small NSU Wankel engine as a test bed, 30 different combustion chamber shapes were tried, along with six different fuel injector positions. Some of the combinations were incompatible, but even so, over 100 different arrangements were tried before the best chamber shape was arrived at. In this design, the fuel is injected into a relatively wide recess carefully shaped to induce air swirl. Air for the combustion process comes from above the trailing half of the rotor, and squirts into the area through a narrow delivery channel.
It must be emphasized that this research applies to the Wankel in its diesel form, and it remains to be seen how much of it may be applied to the four-stroke petrol engine.
While the combustion test work was going on, the little Wankel engine had to be modified to withstand diesel operating conditions. An early change was made from carbon to steel tip or seals, and it was found necessary to make new seal springs out of Nimonic 90 nickel alloy.
Early studies showed signs of misfiring which were soon traced to seal misbehaviour. Since the seals cannot be a perfect fit in their rotor-tip slots, they were tilting and jamming. The solution here (also adopted by NSU before the appearance of the Ro80) was to machine slots in the leading face of the seal to admit high—pressure gas underneath it and force it upwards into contact with the rotor housing. Later, a tendency of the seals to lose contact with the rotor housing as they passed into a lower-pressure area was overcome by recessing the trailing edge of the slots. This resulted in a 30 per cent improvement in low-speed fuel consumption. A further development was the use of a stepped apex seal, retaining the advantages of the recessed slot while also reducing the seal mass.
Again, these studies were carried out with the diesel engine in mind; but it would be surprising if designers of passenger-car Wankels did not take them into account in future.
The first Rolls—Royce development engine was the R1 which was conceived purely as a research tool. With a compressor stage of 1,126 c.c., and a combustion stage of 500 c.c., it produced over 50 bhp and achieved specific fuel consumptions of better than O.5lb/bhp/hour. Among other things, it was used to develop the best inter—porting arrangement between the two stages.
The R2 engine was the alternative three-stage layout, built but not investigated in detail. R3 refers to a combustion stage only, which is being used as a basic unit to build up a range of engines; it has a displacement of 1,216 c.c., and has produced 180 bhp at 4,500 rpm under test conditions.
The remaining engine of which details may be given is the 2—R6. This is a military engine formed of two banks of a two—stage engine. Each high pressure (combustion) stage has a displacement of 1,265 c.c., and is fed by a low-pressure stage of 3,250 c.c. The design power is 350 bhp at 4,500 rpm, for a weight of 939lb-a spectacular power-to-weight ratio for a diesel.
Rolls—Royce emphasize that this engine is not even running as yet, and that it will be some years before it sees even military service. But it is encouraging to see at least one British firm indulging in advanced and original Wankel research.