back to article Boffins demo FIVE MICRON internal combustion engine

Don't tell fans of big motors, but someone's just created an internal combustion engine of just five cubic microns, burning hydrogen and oxygen. Getting an engine that small isn't easy. As the researchers, led by the Netherlands' University of Twente's Vitaly Svetovoy, explain in their Nature paper, even the mechanism by which …

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  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Do we need a new El Reg measurement for this?

    Such as how many to equal a Ferrari? Or a double-decker bus engine?

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    Intriguing.

    So it's an electrolysis then combustion thingy?

    It's true that combustion does not scale well. In rocketry there is the "Characteristic length" L* which is chamber length over throat area.This used to suggest that micro rocket engines were impossible (it's usually quoted in inches, often over a foot).

    But L* is a simple way to capture very complex thermochemistry between the gases and the walls and in fact at just above the stochiometric limited combustion in very small chambers is possible.

    Quite what you'll use it for is another matter. ....

    1. 45RPM Silver badge

      Re: Intriguing.

      In rocketry there is the "Characteristic length" L* which is chamber length over throat area.

      Doesn't the same apply to fellatio?

      1. Yugguy

        Re: Intriguing.

        I thought Fellatio was a character from Hamlet?

        1. 45RPM Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Intriguing.

          Romeo and Juliet, actually. If Romeo got lucky, anyway.

  3. Rampant Spaniel

    Awesome, add a turbo and you have next year's Fiesta engine.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      > Awesome, add a turbo and you have next year's Fiesta engine.

      I don't think the chassis in the Fiesta can take the extra grunt that the turbo will bring.

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Nooooo :) all new Ford ecokaboom engines have a turbo to make up for their pitiful displacement and allow them to quote an mpg that is an order of magnitude or from what you can realistically expect to get If it will last long enough before expiring!

        Although the new Aston inspired grille ads at least 20hp.

  4. JDX Gold badge

    Self-powering?

    You have to input a voltage - does it generate more energy than it consumes, so it can run in isolation? Is that relevant?

    1. Toastan Buttar

      Re: Self-powering?

      Does /any device/ generate more energy than it consumes?

      1. SuperTim

        Re: Self-powering?

        I think they are suggesting that the engine can self sustain (like a car engine) until the fuel is spent, rather than need an external source of power (like a big battery).

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: Self-powering?

          I suspect it's the latter only that the battery needed is very small.

        2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

          Re: Self-powering? (Super Tim)

          > I think they are suggesting that the engine can self sustain (like a car engine) until the fuel is spent, rather than need an external source of power (like a big battery).

          If you read the article carefully you will notice that the "fuel" here is electricity (used to generate H2 and O2 by electrolysis of the water). So the answer to your unasked question is "both".

        3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Self-powering? @SuperTim

          I think it's a closed system. Apply power, and you go to hydrogen and oxygen, with a corresponding increase in volume. Remove power, and it spontaneously forms H2O, with a reduction in volume. Switch the power rapidly, and you get a vibration.

          Nothing is consumed except electrical power.

      2. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: Self-powering?

        Does /any device/ generate more energy than it consumes?

        My kids after a slurp of full-fat Coke or similar hyper-sugar juice?

      3. TitterYeNot
        Coat

        Re: Self-powering?

        "Does /any device/ generate more energy than it consumes?"

        There's a little known phenomenon called the necro-autorotation ethergenesis factor, which provides us with a sliding scale of the power produced when a severely disgruntled human corpse spins in its grave. For example:-

        - Douglas Adams after the release of the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - 375 Megawatts

        - Aneurin Bevan on the state of the 21st century NHS - 850 Megawatts

        - Abe Lincoln on the trampling of the US Constitution - 1.21 Gigawatts

        And so on...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Self-powering?

          - Steve Jobs after the iOS 7 color scheme launch - NaN Yottawatts

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Self-powering?

          Frank Sinatra on listening to Robbie Williams "Swing when your winning" - 6.66 Terawatts

      4. billse10

        Re: Self-powering?

        "Does /any device/ generate more energy than it consumes?"

        A Northern line tube train fitted with the new "passenger frustration : electrical energy" conversion unit ....

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Self-powering?

      I think it's important because it's a new way of converting electrical energy into physical work at a nano scale.

      Currently we use electric motors, voice coils (and other electro-magnetic devices), piezoelectric crystals or direct thermal expansion to convert electrical energy into movement. This seems a new way of doing the same, and if it does it more efficiently, or at a scale not previously possible, then it is important.

  5. Scott Broukell
    Meh

    Mrs Non Smoker & Mrs Smoker

    "It's a piston engine"

    "What d'you want that for then?"

    "Well, it was a bargain weren't it!"

    "Oh, day and night, but this is wondrous strange ... "

    (apologies to Chapman, Palin, Idle et al)

  6. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Joke

    All we know is...

    We now need a nano-Stig to test it around the track (a racetrack oscillator should do nicely).

    1. The First Dave
      Boffin

      Re: All we know is...

      Don't worry, Paul O'Neil (he is the current Stig, right?) is already a nano-man.

  7. MJI Silver badge

    6,000,000 RPM equivalent

    Well the propose 100 kHz would be.

    Scarey!

  8. Alienrat
    Facepalm

    Impressive

    .. that they can make a micro-engine in silicon with such high precision considering how crap their ability with a soldering iron is!

    1. DropBear
      Trollface

      Re: Impressive

      Well that's just what you get when you try to solder with this newfangled unleaded fuel...

  9. Trygve Henriksen

    First we got 3 atom thick LEDs, now an engine...

    And boffins have long since been able to create similarly-scaled cogs.

    So, where's the microscopic car?

    Still waiting for a nanoscale airfreshener?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, I guess now we know what Formula One will be running next season.

    1. Steve Foster
      Joke

      @David W.

      Don't you mean Formula 0.00000000001 ?

  11. Irongut Silver badge

    The smallest engine...

    in the world.

    </Clarkson>

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clarkson's too big to take it round the track, but Hammond might just squeeze in.

  13. sisk

    Efficiency?

    Aren't there already nanometer scale electric 'motors' (using the term loosely here) in existence and wouldn't they be more efficient than this? I just can't imagine that doing electrolysis then burning O2 & H is as efficient as just using the electricity directly would be.

    1. Otto is a bear.

      Re: Efficiency?

      I thought it was steam engines, whatever happened to the steam engine on a chip.

      1. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: Efficiency?

        I thought it was steam engines, whatever happened to the steam engine on a chip.

        We should probably go ask Gabe Newell, this and he he can actually count to Three....

  14. Barbarian At the Gates
    Pint

    Cheers!

    Now that's a soldering job I can get behind. Sometimes I require a pint or two in order to "steady my hand" before I have a go at it myself!

  15. Steve Evans

    They might make some awesome nano-tech, but their soldering is shocking!

  16. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Just got busted for goofing off when my hysterical laughter tipped off my boss that I was not, in fact, debugging code as he thought.

    I had the picture of a surgeon starting a newly-implanted pacemaker with a recoil starter a-la lawnmower and lost it.

  17. Winters

    When I read this, all I could picture was nano-bots driving around in 1950s cars.

  18. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Joke

    And over in the US

    They are prepping the Indiana 500 x 10^-9

    On a more serious note: well done those boffins. Even if it finally does not become practical, sometimes you have to build things just because you can

  19. southen bastard

    turbine

    Lets see a turbine engen and micro scram jet it could be used to power the NBN its so slow getting here.

  20. Jamie Jones Silver badge
    Mushroom

    And as we sleep......

    .........government ministers are busy discussing what 'green' tax levy to apply to it!

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