Industry News

When Gasoline Engines Go Extinct

When Gasoline Engines Go Extinct

If you hang out at car shows or with your car friends often enough, you’ve probably ruminated about when gasoline engines will go extinct.

Combustion engines won’t completely disappear any time soon, if ever. Certain transportation tasks or operating environments simply don’t lend themselves to battery– or hydrogen-powered electric propulsion.

A century and a half of research and development has greatly increased the efficiency of combustion engines, and engineers have loads of additional tricks up their sleeves that promise to extract even more work from a molecule of fuel while producing even fewer harmful emissions. Here are but a few we’re keeping our eyes on, listed in order of complexity and cost to implement.

From MotorTrend:

A 98-Octane Fuel Standard

Simply being able to design an engine to run 15:1 or higher compression greatly improves its thermodynamic efficiency and power density, permitting further engine downsizing. That requires higher-octane fuel, and a research-octane number (RON) of 98 represents a sweet spot, above which producing/refining the fuel consumes more energy, decreasing the well-to-wheels energy/CO2 benefit. 

Smart Cylinder Deactivation

Engines are sized for worst-case scenarios like quarter-mile acceleration or towing heavy trailers up Davis Dam. Cylinder deactivation improves efficiency during less extreme driving situations by making a few cylinders work Davis Dam hard while the others do nothing. Dynamic Fuel Management can shut off any or all cylinders in GM’s 5.3- and 6.2-liter V-8s to boost EPA fuel economy by up nearly 12 percent. Tula Technologies and Eaton now propose similar systems for long-haul diesel engines, where a smaller fuel efficiency payoff (1.5-4.0 percent) pays huge NOx dividends by maintaining exhaust temperatures needed to keep catalysts lit.

Advances In Forced Induction

An engine’s power is limited by the amount of air it can ingest, which is why crankshaft-powered superchargers and exhaust-powered turbochargers were developed more than a century ago. Electric superchargers using recovered energy power the the Volvo Drive E and Mercedes M256 engines, among others; adding a motor/generator to a turbocharger eliminates lag under power and permits energy harvesting while cruising. Two interesting riffs on crank-powered superchargers are the Torotrak V-Charge centrifugal blower, which employs a CVT to quickly match speed to demand, and Hansen Engine Corp’s Lysholm-type blower, which features a window that opens or closes to match demand for air pressure while minimizing losses to deliver turbo efficiency with supercharged responsiveness.

Plasma Ignition Systems

Because fuel takes time to burn, conventional spark plugs fire as the piston is already moving upward, rendering the initial combustion counterproductive. Schemes to ignite more of the mixture simultaneously promise faster combustion cheap prices that allows it to mostly happen on the downstroke. Ford developed near-infrared lasers to ignite multiple points in a combustion chamber, but cost and reliability remains problematic. Transient Plasma’s drop-in spark plug replacement injects sheets of low-temperature plasma that promises to ignite ultra-lean mixtures quickly and coolly for a fuel economy boost of 10-15 percent and dramatically reduced NOx. Even Maserati’s new pre-chamber Twin-Combustion system qualifies as an ignition accelerator.

Variable Compression Ratio

This cake-and-eat-it concept promises high compression for parsimonious light-throttle cruising and low compression when the turbo is on boost. Nissan’s Rube-Goldberg compound connecting-rod gizmo varies the engine’s stroke, altering compression infinitely between 8:1 and 14:1. We’ve been underwhelmed by Nissan/Infiniti’s VC-Turbo performance and fuel economy and wonder if FEV’s eccentric connecting rod might be simpler and work better. Oil pressure delivered via the crankshaft rotates an eccentric bearing in the piston end, changing the stroke across a narrower range, say from 8:1 to 12:1, promising a 5 percent drop in fuel consumption.

Infrastructure and Reality

The reality is that fossil fuels will need to exist for at least the rest of 21st century. There’s no way even the United States could build the infrastructure. There are 290 million vehicles on the road just in the USA. If everyone one of them were powerd by electricity only, the USA could not produce sufficient electric energy to charge the batteries of these vehicles.

If you look at how electricity is produced in the USA rin 2021, it breaks down like this:

About 61% of this electricity generation was from fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases.

About 19% was from nuclear energy, and about 20% was from renewable energy sources (hydro-generated, solar and wind combined)

The state of California cam barely keep the lights on in some communities when it gets windy for fear of downed powerlines starting brushfires.

While electric cars hold promise for the future, many of us wil have to live through a painful transition. Perhaps not as painful as switching from horses and buggies to cars, but it will still be a period of turmoil and missteps. In the interim, consumers will

Leave a Reply