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- Brake Mean Effective Pressure -

BMEP: An important performance yardstick

We have presented the topics of Thermal Efficiency and Volumetric Efficiency as methods for estimating the potential output of a given engine configuration.

Brake Mean Effective Pressure (BMEP) is another very effective yardstick for comparing the performance of an engine of a given type to another of the same type, and for evaluating the reasonableness of performance claims or requirements.

The definition of BMEP is: the average (mean) pressure which, if imposed on the pistons uniformly from the top to the bottom of each power stroke, would produce the measured (brake) power output.

Please note that BMEP is purely theoretical and has NOTHING to do with ACTUAL CYLINDER PRESSURES. It is simply a tool to evaluate the efficiency of a given engine at producing torque from a given displacement.

By looking at equations 8-a and 8-b below, you can easily see that BMEP is simply the torque per cubic inch of displacement, multiplied by a constant. In fact, many talented people in the engine design and development business currently use torque-per-cubic inch ("torque ratio") instead of BMEP, thereby avoiding that tedious multiplication process.

If you know the torque and displacement of an engine, a very practical way to calculate BMEP is:

BMEP (psi) = 150.8 x TORQUE  (lb-ft) / DISPLACEMENT (ci)

(Equation 8-a, 4-Stroke Engine)

BMEP (psi) = 75.4 x TORQUE  (lb-ft) / DISPLACEMENT (ci)

(Equation 8-b, 2-Stroke Engine)

(IF you prefer pressure readings in Bar rather than PSI, simply divide PSI by 14.5)

(IF you are interested in the derivation of those relationships, it is explained at the bottom of this page.)

A torque output of 1.0 lb-ft per cubic inch of displacement in a 4-stroke engine equals a BMEP of 150.8 psi. In a 2-stroke engine, that same 1.0 lb-ft of torque per cubic inch is a BMEP of 75.4 psi. (The derivation of that relationship is given at the borttom of this page.)

The discussion on the remainder of this page is with respect to four-stroke engines, but it applies equally to two stroke engines if you simply substitute 75.4 everywhere you see 150.8.

This tool is extremely handy to evaluate the performance which is claimed for any particular engine. For example, the "angle-valve" Lycoming IO-360 (200 HP, 360 CID) and IO-540 (300 HP, 540 CID) engines make their rated power at 2700 RPM. At that RPM (2700), the rated power requires 389 lb-ft (200 HP) and 584 lb-ft (300 HP) of torque respectively. (If you don't understand that calculation, CLICK HERE)

From those torque values, it is easy to see (from Equation 8-a above) that both engines operate at a BMEP of about 163 PSI (12.25 bar, or a "torque ratio" of 1.08 lb-ft per cubic inch) at peak power. The BMEP at peak torque is slightly greater.

For a long-life (in an aircraft frame of reference), naturally-aspirated, SI (spark ignition) gasoline-fueled, two-valve-per-cylinder, pushrod engine, a BMEP over 204 PSI (14 bar, torque ratio of 1.35) is quite difficult to achieve and requires a serious development program and very specialized components.

It is worthwhile to note that a contemporary, normally-aspirated CI (compression-ignition) engine can easily make 15 bar of BMEP, and several turbocharged CI street engines routinely exceed 20.5 bar. It is helpful to remember that BMEP is a useful tool for comparing and evaluating similar types of engines.

For comparison purposes, let's look at the engines that are commonly believed to be the very pinnacle of engine performance: Formula-1 (Grand Prix).

An F1 engine is purpose-built and essentially unrestricted. For the 2006 season, the rules required a 90° V8 engine of 2.4 liters displacement (146.4 CID) with a maximum bore of 98mm (3.858) and a required bore spacing of 106.5 mm (4.193). The resulting stroke to achieve 2.4 liters is 39.75 mm (1.565) and is implemented with a 180° crankshaft. The typical rod length is approximately 102 mm (4.016 in), for a Rod / Stroke ratio of about 2.57.

These engines are typically a 4-valve-per cylinder layout with two overhead cams per bank, and pneumatic valvesprings. In addition to the few restrictions stated above, there are the following additional restrictions: (a) no beryllium compounds, (b) no MMC pistons, (c) no variable-length intake pipes, (d) one injector per cylinder, and (e) the requirement that one engine last for two race weekends.

At the end of the 2006 season, most of these F1 engines ran up to 20,000 RPM in race trim, and made in the vicinity of 750 HP. One engine for which I have the figures made a peak power value of 755 BHP at an astonishing 19,250 RPM. At a peak power of 755 HP, the torque is 206 lb-ft and peak-power BMEP would be 212 psi. (14.63 bar). Peak torque of 214 lb-ft occurred at 17,000 RPM for a BMEP of 220 psi (15.18 bar). There can be no argument that 212 psi at 19,250 RPM is truly amazing.

However, let's look at some astounding domestic technology.

The NASCAR CUP race engine is a severely-restricted powerplant, allegedly being derived from "production" components, although as of 2010, all 4 engines competing at that level (Chevy, Dodge, Ford, Totota) are purpose-built race engines designed specifically to NASCAR's rule book.

By regulation, CUP engines have a maximum displacement of 358 CI (5.87 L). They must use a cast-iron 90° V8 block with a 4.500 inch bore spacing and a 90° steel crankshaft. The cylinder heads are purpose-designed and highly-developed, limited to two valves per cylinder, specific valve angles, specific port floor heights, etc.. The valves are operated by a single, block-mounted, flat-tappet camshaft  (that's right, still no rollers as of 2014; switching to roller cam followers for the 2015 season) and a pushrod / rocker-arm / coil-spring valvetrain. It is further hobbled by the requirement for a single four-barrel carburetor (until 2011) and now (2012 on), by a 4-barrel-carburetor-like throttle body and individial runner EFI. Electronically-controlled ignition is allowed (as of 2012), and there are minimum weight requirements for the conrods and pistons. More details on these engines can be found HERE.)

How do these CUP engines perform? At the end of the 2014 season, the engines from one major NASCAR engine manufacturer were producing in the neighborhood of 880 HP at about 9000 RPM, and they operate at a max race rpm in the vicinity of 9400 rpm.

Consider the fact that, to produce 880 HP at 9000 RPM, requires 513 lb-ft of torque, for a peak-power BMEP of nearly 216 PSI (14.92 bar, torque ratio of 1.43). Peak torque for that same engine was typically about 535 lb-ft at 7800 RPM, for a peak BMEP of over 226 psi (15.6 bar, torque ratio of 1.50).

THAT is truly astonishing.

(Now I digress for a short rant.

It is highly regrettable that, for the 2015 season, the NASCAR braintrust has decided to legislate these amazing engines out of existence. For the 2015 season, these same engines will be fitted with a "Tapered Spacer" between the throttle body and the intake plenum. This spacer amounts to little more than a fancy restrictor plate, which further limits the amount of air that the engine can ingest. That rule change immediately reduced the engine power to roughly 725 HP.

And while the NASCAR functionaries blather on about "reducing the cost of racing", this rule change has required yet another vast expenditure of R&D money to develop a new engine package (combustion chamber, ports, manifold runners, plenum configuration, cam profiles, valve springs, etc. etc. etc) to optimize the performance of this new (different) engine package.)

OK, back to BMEP........

Compare the F1 engine figures to the CUP engine figures to get a more vivid picture of just how clever these CUP engine guys are. In addition, consider the fact that (a) a single engine must be used for each race meeting, which includes at least two practice sessions, a qualifying session, and the race, which can be as long as 600 miles, and (b) the Penske-Dodge engines that won the 2012 championship did not suffer a single engine failure throughout the 38-race, 2012 season.

That being said, recent winners in the annual Engine Masters competition are achieving over 16.9 bar BMEP (245 psi, torque ratio of 1.63 ! ) with normally-aspirated, petrol-fueled, SI, 2-valve pushrod engine. HOWEVER, the builders freely admit that, due to the very aggressive cam profiles, rocker ratios, gross valve lift numbers, and other compromises aimed at maximizing BMEP, these engines have relatively short life expectancies.

NOTE: On 12 Jan 2015, we corrected the following paragraph, thanks to astute reader Dan Nicoson, who pointed out to me that Blanton's engine offering was a 3.8 liter Ford V6, not a 2.8 liter engine, as the following short rant on absurd power claims previously stated.

To appreciate the value of BMEP (or torque per cubic inch) as an engine-claim evaluation tool, suppose someone offers to sell you a 3.8 liter (232 cubic inch) Ford V6 which allegedly makes 290 HP at 5000 RPM, and is equipped with some off-the-shelf aftermarket aluminum heads, intake manifold and a "performance" camshaft. You could evaluate the reasonableness of this claim by calculating (a) that 290 HP at 5000 RPM requires about 305 lb-ft of torque (290 x 5252 ÷ 5000), and (b) that 305 lb-ft. of torque from 232 cubic inches requires a BMEP of 198 PSI (150.8 x 305 ÷ 198), or a torque ratio of 1.31.

You would then dismiss the claim as preposterous because you know that if a guy could do the magic required to make a 1.31 torque ratio with the OEM head design, the OEM valvetrain design and a single centrally-located carburetor, he would be renowned as one of the pre-eminent engine gurus in the world.

As a matter of fact, in order to get a BMEP value of 214 PSI from our GEN-1 aircraft V8, we had to use extremely well developed, high-flowing, high velocity heads, a specially-developed tuned intake and fuel injection system, very well developed roller-cam profiles and valve train components, and a host of very specialized components which we designed and manufactured.


The definition of BMEP (Brake Mean Effective Pressure), as previously stated at the top of this page, is: " the mean (average) pressure which, if imposed on the pistons uniformly from the top to the bottom of each power stroke, would produce the measured (brake) power output". AGAIN, NOTE that BMEP is purely theoretical and has nothing to do with actual cylinder pressures.

If we put the definition into mathematical form, we get:,

HP = BMEP x piston area x (stroke / 12) x RPM x power-pulses-per-revolution / 33000

Working through that equation in terms of a single cylinder engine, BMEP (in PSI) multiplied by piston area (square inches) gives the mean force applied to the piston during the power stroke. Multiplying that force by the stroke (inches divided by 12, which changes the units to feet) gives the net WORK (in foot-pounds) produced by the piston moving from TDC to BDC with the BMEP exerted on it throughout that motion. (Clearly this is not an attempt to represent the reality in the combustion chamber. As previously stated, BMEP is simply a convenient tool for comparing and evaluating engine performance.)

Next, power is defined as work-per-unit time. Therefore, multiplying the WORK (ft-lbs) by the RPM, then multiplying by power-pulses-per-revolution (PPR) gives the net (brake) power (foot-pounds per minute in this example) produced by one cylinder. (In a single-cylinder engine, PPR is either 1 for a 2-stroke engine or 1/2 for a 4-stroke engine.

Since one HORSEPOWER is defined as 33,000 foot-pounds-of-work-per-minute, dividing the WORK (ft-lbs) by 33,000 changes the units from foot-pounds-per-minute to HP.

Since it is clear that piston area x stroke is the displacement of one cylinder (in cubic inches), then the equation can be simplified to:

HP = BMEP x (displacement / 12) x RPM x power-pulses-per-revolution / 33000

Horsepower is also defined as:

HP = Torque x RPM / 5252

Substituting that equation into the preceding one gives:

Torque x RPM / 5252 = BMEP x displacement / 12 x RPM x PPR / 33000

Reducing that equation gives:

BMEP = (Torque x 12 x 33,000 / 5252) / (Displacement x PPR)

Evaluating the constants, 12 x 33,000 / 5252 = 75.39985, which can safely be approximated by 75.4. Simplifying the equation again gives:

BMEP = (Torque x 75.4) / (Displacement x PPR)

It is also clear that because the equation includes PPR, it applies to engines with any number of cylinders by using the total displacement, total brake torque, and correct PPR.

Suppose, for example, that you measured 14.45 lb-ft of torque from a 125 cc (7.625 CID) single-cylinder 2-stroke engine at 12,950 RPM, you would have 35.63 HP (285 HP per liter, quite impressive indeed). The BMEP would be:

BMEP = (14.45 x 75.4) / (7.625 x 1) = 142.9 psi (9.85 bar)

That BMEP (9.85 bar) is an impressive number for a piston-ported 2-stroke engine.

However, suppose someone claimed to be making that same torque from a single cylinder 4-stroke 125 cc engine at 12,950 RPM. The power would be the same (35.63 HP, or 285 HP per liter). The power density would not necessarily set off alarms, (the 2008 2.4 liter F1 V8 engines approached 315 HP per liter), but the BMEP would cause that claim to be declared highly questionable:

BMEP = (14.45 x 75.4) / (7.625 x 1/2) = 285.8 psi (19.7 bar)

That BMEP (19.7 bar) is clearly absurd for a normally-aspirated engine. Professor Gordon Blair stated that exceeding 15 bar of BMEP in a N/A engine is virtually impossible, but that was a few years ago. NASCAR Cup engines are now approaching 15.6 bar

Clearly, the difference between 2- and 4-stroke engines is simply a factor of 2, because of the fact that a 2-stroke cylinder fires once per revoultion whereas a 4-stroke engine fires only once per two revolutions. The equations can be simplified further by incorporating that PPR factor in the constant 75.4 and eliminating PPR from the equation, therefore making the constant for a 4-stroke engine 2 x 75.4 = 150.8. That produces the equations shown at the top of this article, which use the full engine displacement and measured torque.

BMEP = 150.8 x TORQUE  (lb-ft) / DISPLACEMENT (ci)

(Equation 8-a, 4-Stroke Engine)

BMEP = 75.4 x TORQUE  (lb-ft) / DISPLACEMENT (ci)

(Equation 8-b, 2-Stroke Engine)

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