Ford just patented a new kind of cylinder head that uses polymer composites instead of cast iron or aluminum.
For the longest time, if you wanted to make an engine, you needed to use heavy, durable metals to prevent the whole thing from exploding as soon as the whole internal combustion thing gets going. Consequently, the engine of a car (or indeed, of any vehicle) is the single heaviest component it has.
Heavy, in general, is bad. Heavy is slow, heavy is cumbersome, and worst of all, heavy needs more gas to get up to a reasonable speed. If the car is lighter it not only goes faster but drinks less gas doing it. And reducing the weight of the engine is on every engineer's minds just due to how heavy it usually is.
It was certainly on the minds of Ford engineers as they’ve recently patented a new type of cylinder head according to The Truth About Cars (that’s the part that sits at the top of the engine and completes the combustion chamber). Rather than being made of steel, iron, or aluminum, as most cylinder heads are made of, this one would be made of a polymer composite material surrounding a metal skeleton.
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The composite could be made of resin, silicone, or any number of different polymers, and would be both lighter and easier to produce than traditional cylinder heads. In addition to saving on fuel economy for making a lighter engine, it would also be corrosion resistant for not having any exposed metal parts.
There have been attempts to create engine components from polymer composites in the past, but they’ve always run into problems. Either the polymer was too difficult to work with and couldn’t be fitted into the exact shape they needed, or the polymer itself just couldn’t survive the extremely high heat and pressure that an engine produces. The patent doesn’t necessarily mean that Ford has entirely figured out how to get around these problems, especially when it comes to the long term, but they may be on to something that’s close enough to reality they see the benefit in patenting it now rather than trying to keep it a complete secret.
Ford as a company has had this sort of engine lightening on its collective radar for some time. In 2016, they unveiled a 1.0-L engine made entirely from injection-molded carbon fiber. It was 16 percent lighter than an equivalent engine, which is an enormous amount of saved weight if you were to scale it into a massive V8.