Designing a Cleaner Car Engine: Meet Senior Eric Mattessich

Eric Mattessich designed an energy recovery system that can make hybrid car engines cleaner and more efficient.

Eric Mattessich, a senior at NJIT, has been featured in The New York Times and Popular Science magazine.    

That’s because his research is big news: Eric has designed a device to reduce emissions from hybrid car engines. His device, once manufactured, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from hybrids by 20 percent. It would also increase the efficiency of hybrid engines by 20 percent.

Ever since he was a boy, Eric, who majors in industrial engineering, was a passionate builder.  He spent his boyhood taking things apart to see how they worked.  As far back as he can remember, he was always an amateur inventor.  As he got older, he took a passionate interest in cars – a passion that continues today unabated.  At NJIT, he belongs to the Society of Automotive Engineers, a group that’s building a formula car.  His interest in cars, coupled with what he’s learned in his classes, has turned him into a first-rate student inventor.

“Inventing solutions to problems,” says Eric, “has just always been a passion of mine.”

And one day last year, Eric focused on this long-standing problem: the internal combustion engine loses some 70 percent of its energy straight out of the tailpipe, in the form of heat. What if someone, thought Eric, could find a way to reuse all of that lost heat and energy? That was the question he set himself to solve. 

So how exactly does your device work?
Using computer-aided design (CAD), I designed an energy recovery system.  My design uses two turbine generators; in the first turbine, the pressure of the engine’s exhaust spins the turbine, which generates electricity. The second turbine uses the wasted heat from the exhaust to turn water into steam. The steam then powers the generator before traveling into a condenser, where it turns back into water and starts the cycle again. Both turbines feed electricity back into the hybrid’s batteries for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions and a 20 percent more efficient vehicle.

And how far along are you?
Right now, all I have is the CAD design. I’m working on a prototype, applying for a patent, and looking for a car company interested in building the system.  I contacted Ford, but they were not interested.  I’m considering hiring a shop to make a prototype for me.

Have you contacted companies that produce alternative energy?
Yes, that’s another route I’m pursuing.  I’ve been in contact with several alternative energy companies and I am hoping that soon I’ll be able to license my device.  

Did your studies at NJIT inspire you to design this device?
My NJIT classes helped me indirectly in the sense that they greatly improved my problem-solving abilities. I starting focusing, however, on waste heat and exhaust velocity when I joined the Society of Automotive Engineers and got interested in auto racing. I had always wished I could harness that wasted exhaust energy for more horsepower. And one day it became clear to me that the wasted energy could be harnessed for more efficiency in a hybrid engine system.

Is this device related to your major: industrial engineering?
In a way, yes. Industrial engineering is all about efficiency and minimizing waste, and my exhaust recovery system will do that for hybrid engines. I’ve also worked on this device in an industrial engineering lab here at NJIT. And if the device is mass produced, it will be good project for industrial engineers, who will work on how to mass produce it as efficiently as possible.  

You’ve said that one of first things you learned at NJIT was how inefficient the combustion engine is.
Yes, one of the first things I learned in an engineering class was that the combustion engine blows about 70 percent of the energy it creates through its tailpipe -- in the form of heat. So I thought why not adapt the kind of heat-capturing devices used to make power plants more efficient to hybrid cars. The technology has been around since the 1900s. It's just that no one has put it into such a small package before. I hope to be the first to do that.  I love improving cars, and I’m interested in helping the environment and my device will do both. 

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)