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  Somender Singh builds a better IC Engine

The internal combustion engine—or is it the ‘infernal’ combustion engine, to you?— isn’t going to go away in a hurry. Hate it all you want, live without it if you can, but millions of them are burning petro fuels right now and warming up the globe. And they are breeding faster than ever before. So, our best chances are with taming them into better behaviour. Somender Singh, a home-spun, hands-on tinkerer in Mysore, Karnataka may have bred just such an animal.

When reporting technology breakthroughs, it’s best to first answer, “what was the problem?” The problem here,is accelerated depletion of fossil fuels, emission of pollutants and climate change due to global warming, all majorly contributed by I C engines. Singh’s invention may not stop any of these, but it will buy our planet more time in which to come up with the magic bullet.

We owe this story to reader John Norris who scooped this good news from ‘Popular Science’ magazine, which has featured Singh’s work. It’s rare for an Indian innovation or product to appear in this 100+ year old publication. It is the equivalent of ‘Nature’ magazine for technology and innovation. It is very selective about its content. For example, over the decades it has devoted no more than 1000 words per achievement of Burt Rutan, the serial aeronautical innovator, the very man who recently built and propelled SpaceShipOne into outer space. Bimbettes can appear sooner on Time magazine covers than inventors in Popular Science’s inner pages.

In its August 21 edition, it has run a 5000 word essay on Singh. We had better take notice. And empathise with him. The poor man has endured enough of the humiliation of Indian pioneers—of being recognised abroad and being ignored at home. But let’s savour his achievement first.

Charles Graeber, author of the Popular Science article on Singh, says the I C engine has scarcely changed in its essence of a “boom that turns a crank”, since Christiaan Huygens in 1673, exploded gunpowder in a chamber to push a piston down. In the over 300 years since, all we have managed is to extract 28% out of gasoline’s ‘boom’ in our engines. The rest is wasted and pushed into the atmosphere as heat and pollutants.

Somender Singh, grew up fascinated by bikes and speed. He was forever trying to make his machines go that bit faster. He is a tech-school drop out but a good mechanic. Singh intuited that if one wanted to improve efficiency of engines, one has to extract more from the fuel that goes in. Singh’s solution is “a concave bit of steel, with rough grooves scored through the four axes like the points of a compass. It looks a bit like a homemade ashtray.”

Incorporating this design into the cylinder head of his test engine, Singh witnessed some amazing improvements: the engine consumed between 10 and 20% less fuel, the exhaust was distinctly cooler and yet, the spark plug—when pulled out— was blue-hot. Clearly, the cauldron inside was busier, but little energy escaped it as exhaust. The Singh Chamber was improving combustion.

Greater revelations awaited when a Singh engine powered a car. He was “able to keep his car in fourth gear at 500 rpm without sputtering or pinging”, and “It was zippier. And in third gear I could slow down to 20 kph with no engine knock, and just speed up smoothly, like you would in first gear”. It was as though you didn’t need a gear-box at all. Singh calls it the “Direct Drive Engine”.

Singh was awarded US Patent No 6237579 in May 2001. A greater tribute—if imitation be deemed as such—followed: General Electric came up, in two months flat, with a ‘me-too’ device. After that euphoria however, Singh has been climbing steeper mountains—of neglect and impediments that India places on her sons.

He wrote to every conceivable person of substance. Nobody showed any interest. He has spent money and humiliating time trying to persuade people. Take this as an example of the laws we have: it turns out that no government funded lab will test an engine unless the engine builder approves. It’s like saying we may not assay Coca Cola, unless Atlanta allows.

Singh spent weeks in a bug-ridden hotel in Pune trying to get his engine tested at Automotive Research Association of India [ARAI]. Test showed that a Singh modified engine consumed between 10 and 42% less fuel and ran 16 degC cooler. Yet no one has come up to champion him. He is close to bitterness, though recently Tata Motors has evinced some early interest.

Graeber quotes a US expert:"what Singh needs to prove his concept is a standard, scientific A:B test, on a standard engine, preferably something mainstream and dyno testing with a five-gas analyzer. Then he needs to take one of his modified cylinder heads, swap it out on the same engine, and dyno test that. A to B. Even if the emissions don’t go down a whisker, if there’s an increase in fuel economy, my god, that’s a win… the world’s your oyster.”

Why is it so hard for an Indian to get that test done here? The longish Popular Science article is worth a read,for it highlights areas that Indians must agitate against. 

Here’s a do-able road-map. For a start, GoodNewsIndia appeals to a reader out there, willing to track down Somender Singh in Mysore [Speedwell Tune Up Centre and Garuda R&D is all the lead we have] and send his address, phone and email to be added here. Once it’s here, you can write and express your appreciation. Next, you can button-hole your favourite politician, industrialist or bureaucrat, post in message boards and newsgroups. Maybe some doors will open for this man.

India has many tinkerers in the great Yankee tradition Many are unlettered and unaware of the roads they must take to realise their potential. Singh would be a role-model if he succeeds. He must therefore, get his hearing.

Postscript: Readers Sreedevi and Krishna have already responded with contact details of Mr Somendar Singh. Here they are:

Garuda R&D,

Hyder Ali Road, Opp. Chamundivihar Stadium,

Nazarbad, Mysore-570 010


The article in Popular Science