Located in an unassuming warehouse outside of downtown Ridgely, Combined Technology Solutions (CTS) is a little company with the potential to make a big impact on the way we think about engine efficiency standards in America.
Formed in 2008 by Joe Anderson in order to compete in an international contest funded by the XPrize Foundation called the “100 MPG Challenge”, CTS made its mark early with a 2003 Cadillac CTS that they modified to achieve 72 miles per gallon.
This put CTS in the top 20 finishers for the contest – an impressive feat, considering how prior to Anderson and his team’s tinkering, this factory stock Cadillac CTS (C-class Touring Sedan, yes this redundancy is a coincidence) got about 14 miles to the gallon.
So what made the CTS team’s 2003 Cadillac CTS outperform eco-friendly paragons like the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight?
It all comes down to one little piece of technology, the company’s centerpiece item, the Dynamic Spark Ignition System (DSI). What is it? The short answer is that it is a different type of energy sent to the spark plug, but unlike a conventional ignition system, the CTS ignition does not send out a simple electrical spark, but rather an arc of plasma which has a much longer duration, combusting the compressed gas within the cylinder with greater efficiency.
Using lean and ultra lean fuel mixtures, air-fuel ratios are changed from the normal 14.7:1 to over 40:1. The additional air boosted through the supercharger increases engine efficiency, reduces combustion and exhaust temperatures and lowers coolant temperatures while providing smooth power.
The result of this process is a much cleaner, leaner burning engine that can also burn just about any type of fuel, including gasoline, methanol, ethanol, natural gas, nitro methane, propane and diesel.
With this achievement under their belt, the question becomes, why hasn’t CTS been able to get their DSI ignition technology to a wider market? After all, by choosing a Cadillac as the DSI’s prototype vehicle–a brand typically equated with the golden age of American motors, when we were not the least concerned with fuel economy–have Anderson and team not found the ideal blend between nostalgia and forward thinking, eco-friendly technology?
Well, sure, but it comes with a catch. And it’s called good patenting, and not the kind that involves putting a little “c” on a napkin that you affix to your invention with a piece of chewing gum.
“One of the reasons we chose to go with a Cadillac for this idea,” said Anderson, “is that it is a car that every American would want to buy. Also, with the rolling resistance and weight specifications, we were presented not only with a challenge to make a cleaner, leaner burning engine, but also significant hurdles to overcome regarding friction and vehicle mass. And the outcome, even with these challenges, was a 72 mpg car.”
“However,” added Anderson, “the growth of this has been stymied by even myself, and partially because we have to make a living trying to do this to start with.”
“To divulge the specifics of the technology, you need to have great patents in place, I have provisional patents in place, but not fully developed patents–those cost money. We have to make sure our patents are solid enough that our competitors can’t go around the patents and steal from us.”
Thus, one of the most unnerving aspects of working in the tech industry-especially if you work for yourself as Anderson does– is that while you may have a unique idea, there is always someone around the corner who has an idea that might be just similar enough to yours that a proprietary squabble could ensue. What’s worse? When you are the little guy, there is always the threat of being outmanned, outspent, out-litigated.
Good patents, however, can serve as a firewall against this type of hazard. But again, they can cost a pretty penny, generally between $15,000 and $50,000 for the kind Anderson would need.
There is also the cost of the supercharger and drive system that is required to add more air to the engine essential for lean burn operation.The engine control requires different type of computer programming also to coordinate the DSI system.
These costs, says Anderson, can be offset with the elimination of the 3 way catalytic converter and the use of a smaller engine. However, with these manufacturing complications in mind, a DSI modded vehicle still isn’t quite ready for the average consumer market, even though breaking into this market is a goal.
But if CTS had been dependent on the average auto consumer all this time, they wouldn’t be where they are today. The CTS staff are automobile racers and engine developers. Modeling their attitude on the “skunkworks” methodology first coined by Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Developments Program, CTS looks for opportunities to provide solutions for problems that their wide skill set and knowledge base apply, hence Combined Technology Solutions.
CTS has business relationships with unmanned aerial vehicle companies to test engines and certify them for their customers, usually the military.
“We have applied our DSI to reduce exhaust emissions on very large natural gas engines pumping natural gas all over the USA and Canada to EPA 2014 standards,” said Anderson “We prepare vehicles for a myriad of applications including, racing.”
CTS is also working on commercializing technologies invented at UMd-CP, funded by TEDCO. The USDA has awarded a cooperative research agreement with CTS to test bio fuels.
Hopefully, with the revenues gleaned from these enterprises, Anderson and his team will be able to scrape together the funds to apply the DSI for the average American motorist and commercial delivery fleets.
“Our best thing is to go to market with whatever we have, as fast as we can,” said Anderson. “The first rule of business is sell something. And we do that very well.”