"So far, this looks very promising. Very promising." Wilhelm Müller, head of research at MWM, Motorenwerke Mannheim, has only had Viking Heat Engines' CraftEngine for testing since late April."But we can already confirm that it works, and generates electricity. With a few adaptations, the global potential could be significant," he says.
Carl Benz' cradle
Motorenwerke Mannheim was founded in 1871 by Carl Benz. Today, MWM, with its 900 employees, is owned by industrial giant Caterpillar, with a staff of 125,000 worldwide. Caterpillar is a major manufacturer of gas engines and gas power plants that use everything from regular natural gas to biogas from waste disposal facilities and gas from mines as fuel to produce electricity.
The test facility is located inside the industrial area in Mannheim, with a CraftEngine in the middle. "Both we and the rest of our industry are working continuously on improvements to convert the gas into maximum electrical energy. 26 years ago, gas engines achieved an efficiency of around 35 per cent. Now we are at around 45-46 per cent, and our goal is to achieve 50 per cent by 2018. Then we will be approaching the limit of what pure physics allows. However, through our cooperation with Viking Heat Engines, we believe that optimal adaptation of the CraftEngine could boost power generation by another 4 percentage points, perhaps more," says Müller.
"Is four per cent a lot, or a little?" "It's not just a lot – it's enormous. Four per cent on top of the goal of 50 per cent by 2018 entails an overall conversion of the energy in the gas of 54 per cent. If we manage that, we are practically talking about a quantum leap," according to Müller.
"But we're not there yet. A lot of work remains on design, scaling the CraftEngine and, not least, adaptations so that it can easily be connected to our gas engines," he adds.
JUST LIKE CHRISTMAS. For inventor Harald Nes Rislå from Lillesand (centre), it's almost hard to believe that industrial giant Caterpillar is now testing his machine in Mannheim, Germany. On the left – programme manager Andreas Mück at AVL Schrick.
For electrical engineer and inventor Harald Nes Rislå (age 37), it's just like Christmas to experience Caterpillar's test facility in Mannheim with a CraftEngine smack in the middle. "It's a fantastic recognition and enormously gratifying to have such a large company as our partner. I am genuinely honoured," he says.
"Engines have always fascinated me. And when I was working on the technology for a desalination plant, the question came up of whether there were any small-scale products on the market that could convert heat into electricity. There were not, at least not at a reasonable price. There was a huge gap there. That started me thinking about whether it was possible to develop such a machine," he says.
The first prototype was created in a collaboration with DTU, the Technical University of Denmark. And the machine seemed promising. The next step was the engine design specialists in AVL Schrick in Remscheid outside Düsseldorf.
Veyron and CraftEngine
AVL Schrick, owned by the Austrian AVL group, has a long history in development, design and production of engines, e.g. for Ferrari and Laborghini. The company has also developed and still manufactures the 16-cylinder block for the ultra-luxury Bugatti Veyron.
AVL Schrick has designed and produced the first 18 CraftEngine machines that are now being tested at locations including Mitsui (Japan – geothermal), ETA (Austria – biomass), Cogenra (USA – solar energy) and B/E Aerospace (USA – waste heat). In addition, three CraftEngines have also been installed in Returkraft's incineration plant in Kristiansand.
AVL also came on board as an owner in Viking Heat Engines last year. The company injected two million Euro for a little more than four per cent of the shares. "It's very uncommon for us to take an ownership position with our customers. But I guess this indicates that we have a lot of faith in this," says Andreas Mück in AVL Schrick.
It is a fact that the entire motor industry spends enormous sums on improving fuel efficiency. When a machine like this comes along, that can increase efficiency by four to seven per cent, well yes, that is incredibly interesting," he believes.
Many competing communities
KRISTIANSAND: Jorrit Wronski at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) specialises in what the experts call ORC systems, an abbreviation for Organic Rankine Cycle. Wronski conducted simulation and modelling work for Viking Heat Engines in an early phase, but DTU is not currently involved in the project.
"Quite a few technology communities around the world are spending significant amounts on developing these types of machines now. But in the small-scale segment, where we find Viking Heat Engines, there are no commercially available machines at present, to my knowledge. So this is a race with a lot of avid competitors, where the fastest has a good chance of winning. And I have the very definite impression that Viking is now working at a tremendously fast pace," says Wronski.