A free-piston engine is a linear, 'crankless' internal combustion engine, in which the piston motion is not controlled by a crankshaft but determined by the interaction of forces from the combustion chamber gases, a rebound device (e.g., a piston in a closed cylinder) and a load device (e.g. a gas compressor or a linear alternator).The basic configuration of free-piston engines is commonly known as single piston, dual piston or opposed pistons, referring to the number of combustion cylinders. The free-piston engine is in practice restricted to the two-stroke operating principle, since a power stroke is required every fore-and-aft cycle.
The operational characteristics of free-piston engines differ from those of conventional, crankshaft engines. The main difference is due to the piston motion not being restricted by a crankshaft in the free-piston engine, leading to the potentially valuable feature of variable compression ratio. This does, however, also present a control challenge, since the position of the dead centres must be accurately controlled in order to ensure fuel ignition and efficient combustion, and to avoid excessive in-cylinder pressures or, worse, the piston hitting the cylinder head.
Potential advantages of the free-piston concept include
Simple design with few moving parts, giving a compact engine with low maintenance costs and reduced frictional losses.
The operational flexibility through the variable compression ratio allows operation optimisation for all operating conditions and multi-fuel operation. The free-piston engine is further well suited for homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) operation.
High piston speed around top dead centre (TDC) and a fast power stroke expansion enhances fuel-air mixing and reduces the time available for heat transfer losses and the formation of temperature-dependent emissions such as nitrogen oxides (NOx).
The main challenge for the free-piston engine is engine control, which can only be said to be fully solved for single piston hydraulic free-piston engines. Issues such as the influence of cycle-to-cycle variations in the combustion process and engine performance during transient operation in dual piston engines are topics that need further investigation.
Source : Wikipedia
Full report available at below linkhttp://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/pdfs/merit_review_2010/combustion/ace008_vanblarigan_2010_o.pdf