The Internal Combustion Engine: "I’m Not Dead Yet"

by Richard T. Stuebi

The August 16 edition of The Economist contains an interesting article summarizing many of the advancements being made by various companies to improve the good-old internal combustion engine.

For instance, Daimler (NYSE: DAI) is working on an engine design called the DiesOtto, which attempts to forge a cross between a diesel and a gasoline engine, with the aim of providing the torque and economy of the former along with the flexibility and horsepower of the latter.

Meanwhile, Fiat (BIT: F) is experimenting with a sophisticated valve-control approach called Multiair that they believe will reduce fuel consumption by 20%.

And, it’s not just the big automakers at work. The article profiles Antonov Automotive Technologies (AIM: ATV) in their efforts to develop a new-fangled supercharger, and Ricardo (LSE: RCDO) in their pursuit of an engine that can switch between 2-stroke and 4-stroke operation.

It’s worth noting that none of the companies mentioned in the article are based in the U.S. Will the American automakers be left behind in the innovation race again? Is General Motors (NYSE: GM) putting all of its eggs in the basket of the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt? And where are Ford (NYSE: F) and Chrysler in this game?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

4 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    ~20% improvements in fuel efficiency is all very well, but that means that if every vehicle on the road used this tech, we'd still need to find 80% of the fuel we're currently using, and we'd still be pumping 80% of current quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.These are evolutionary changes. To win this one, we need revolutionary changes. 80% fuel consumption reductions at least… and even then we'll be in for some serious social changes to adapt to a world with less affordable transport. I doubt the IC engine has that kind of efficiency to give.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I agree with that 100% I would also add that Internal Combustion Engines are only about 35% efficient, loosing about 65% energy in waste heat.Electric motors are in the 90% plus range of energy transfer efficiency.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    For example A 1.25 litre petrol engine is about 78 horsepower being about 58 kW power rating. Now by the time that power gets to the wheels, the engine has lost a considerable amount of power due to waste heat losses. i.e. 65% waste heat loss. Thus effectively only giving 58 x .35% efficiency being 20.3 kW to the drive shaft. Then another 10% loss through the transmission, making about 18 kW of power available to drive the wheels or about 24 horsepower. What a waste !

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Even running EVs on coal fired power if more energy efficient and less polluting, than running Internal Combustion Engine vehicles on petrol / gas.It's easier to maintain high efficiency of a large coal fired power station, than thousands of internal combustion Engine vehicles of varying ages. You can also capture the waste heat from coal fired power stations and use it to drive a hybrid steam turbine power plant, making them even more efficient. Cant do that with today's cars.With EVs and Hybrids however you can capture energy through regenerative breaking and shock absorbers.No brainer really.

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