In engineering, the Miller cycle is a combustion process used in a type of four-stroke internal combustion engine. The Miller cycle was patented by Ralph Miller (engineer), an American engineer, in the 1940s.
This type of engine was first used in ships and stationary power-generating plants, but was adapted by Mazda for their KJ-ZEM V6, used in the Millenia sedan, and in their Eunos 800 sedan (Australia) luxury cars. More recently, Subaru has combined a Miller cycle flat-4 with a hybrid driveline for their "Turbo Parallel Hybrid" car, known as the Subaru B5-TPH.
A traditional Otto cycle engine uses four "strokes", of which two can be considered "high power" – the compression stroke (high power consumption) and power stroke (high power production). Much of the internal power loss of an engine is due to the energy needed to compress the charge during the compression stroke, so systems that reduce this power consumption can lead to greater efficiency.
In the Miller cycle, the intake valve is left open longer than it would be in an Otto cycle engine. In effect, the compression stroke is two discrete cycles: the initial portion when the intake valve is open and final portion when the intake valve is closed. This two-stage intake stroke creates the so called "fifth" stroke that the Miller cycle introduces. As the piston initially moves upwards in what is traditionally the compression stroke, the charge is partially expelled back out the still-open intake valve. Typically this loss of charge air would result in a loss of power. However, in the Miller cycle, this is compensated for by the use of a supercharger. The supercharger typically will need to be of the positive displacement (Roots or Screw type) type due to its ability to produce boost at relatively low engine speeds. Otherwise, low-rpm torque will suffer.
A key aspect of the Miller cycle is that the compression stroke actually starts only after the piston has pushed out this "extra" charge and the intake valve closes. This happens at around 20% to 30% into the compression stroke. In other words, the actual compression occurs in the latter 70% to 80% of the compression stroke.
In a typical spark ignition engine, the Miller cycle yields an additional benefit. The intake air is first compressed by the supercharger and then cooled by an intercooler. This lower intake charge temperature, combined with the lower compression of the intake stroke, yields a lower final charge temperature than would be obtained by simply increasing the compression of the piston. This allows ignition timing to be advanced beyond what is normally allowed before the onset of detonation, thus increasing the overall efficiency still further.
An additional advantage of the lower final charge temperature is that the emission of NOx in diesel engines is decreased, which is an important design parameter in large diesel engines on board ships and power plants.
Efficiency is increased by raising the compression ratio. In a typical gasoline engine, the compression ratio is limited due to self-ignition (detonation) of the compressed, and therefore hot, air/fuel mixture. Due to the reduced compression stroke of a Miller cycle engine, a higher overall cylinder pressure (supercharger pressure plus mechanical compression) is possible, and therefore a Miller cycle engine has better efficiency.
The benefits of utilizing positive displacement superchargers come with a cost. 15% to 20% of the power generated by a supercharged engine is usually required to do the work of driving the supercharger, which compresses the intake charge (also known as boost).
A similar delayed-valve closing method is used in some modern versions of Atkinson cycle engines, but without the supercharging. These engines are generally found on hybrid electric vehicles, where efficiency is the goal, and the power lost compared to the Miller cycle is made up through the use of electric motors.