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Wankel Rotary Engines – Isn’t Mazda the only company still developing rotary engines?

No, Wankel rotary engines are currently in development all over the world with companies looking to access existing and emerging markets with engines specifically designed for some very demanding applications.

A case in point is the UK’s Wankel rotary engine ecosystem, over the last 30 to 40 years the UK has been a real world leader in rotary engine development. Building on Norton’s rotary motorcycle legacy of the late 70s early 80s, several companies have emerged after Norton’s demise in the early 90s (AIE being the latest of these) to continue to develop variants of Norton’s low friction, super lightweight “air-cooled rotor” technology. These companies have between them produced engines for a variety of applications, but the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) aerospace sector has undoubtedly been the core market most have targeted.

Advanced Innovative Engineering heritage timeline from 1950 to 2010
AIE’s heritage timeline

These rotary engine companies in the UK are leading the world in developing high-performance engines for UAV projects worldwide, it is something the UK should celebrate more as a real example of a highly successful UK niche export.

Alongside the companies developing rotary engines in the UK, there are also several companies in Europe (including Germany and Austria) currently developing engines. These engines tend to utilise the more traditional “oil cooled rotor” technology (used by Mazda) as per the original Wankel engines developed back in the 1950s and 60s. Oil cooling certainly works well but does mean the engine has to be more complex, heavier and less efficient than the UK-developed “air-cooled rotor” technology. Again depending on the application, oil cooling might not be an issue, but personally, lighter, simpler and more efficient has to be my mantra.

Mazda RX8

Because of this, both my own and AIE’s focus has been on developing and utilising its unique “SPARCS” rotor cooling technology. SPARCS builds on Norton air-cooled-rotor legacy and combines it with some real left-field thinking to deliver a system that cools better than any previous air-cooled-rotor engine, and yet remains super simple and lightweight without compromising efficiency.

SPARCS allows AIE’s engines to be used in a wide range of applications from automotive series range extenders through to UAV propulsion systems, and we do believe it’s the most significant leap forward in rotary engine technology in the last 40 years. It truly delivers a lighter, simpler and more efficient power unit.

For more information on AIE and SPARCS, please review our website

This article is part of a question and answer series which can be found at: Ten inaccurate preconceptions about Wankel rotary engines discussed.

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