The Nuts and Bolts of Timber Dick’s IRIS Engine

Family man and inventor Timber Dick, who's at the center of a July 10 Westword article, was obsessed with cars -- specifically how to make them more efficient. Several years ago, he and his son Corban began studying one of the least efficient parts of an automobile: the internal combustion engine, whose piston-and-cylinder structure has existed relatively unchanged since the 17th century and harnesses only 25 percent of its fuel’s usable power.

The problem, the two decided, was that most of the energy from the engine’s combustions dissipates uselessly into its cylinders’ walls as heat and isn’t used to power the pistons up and down. So they came up with the Internally Radiating Impulse Structure, a new type of engine where the combustion chambers don’t have pistons and cylinders but instead feature walls that expand outward like a camera iris. That way, the energy that was formerly lost as heat is used to move the chamber walls, and this movement powers the engine. Unlike an old-fashioned internal combustion engine, an IRIS engine may harness roughly 70 percent of its fuel’s power.

Family members hope to build an IRIS prototype soon. Look below for an animation of the engine's combustion cycle:

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner

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