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Poll: Does the internal combustion engine have a future?



It seems that almost everyday there’s a pundit, analyst or journalist declaring that the internal combustion engine doesn’t have a future, and that it’s only a matter of time before it goes the way of the dodo. Are they correct though? Could new technologies and developments give the humble internal combustion engine (ICE) a reprieve? That’s the question we’re asking you in this week’s EngineeringPro poll!

At first thought it would seem like a no-brainer. “Of course, the internal combustion engine doesn’t have a future! The automotive industry is electrifying” you might say. But a closer look reveals a slightly less straightforward picture…
Does the internal combustion engine have a future?
(Image via Mazda).

The question of infrastructure

Drive for any reasonable length of time and the odds are fairly high that you’ll see a fuel station. But what are your odds of seeing an electric vehicle charging station? Not quite so high. To-date the infrastructure for the mass-adoption of electric vehicles (and by consequence the abandonment of internal combustion cars) just isn’t there. That’s a view shared by some of the biggest names in the industry too. Speaking to Automotive News Europe this week, Klaus Froelich, BMW Group board member for development, said: “We see areas without a recharging infrastructure such as Russia, the Middle East and the western, internal part of China so they will rely on gasoline engines for another 10 to 15 years.”
Could the adoption of EVs be halted by the hard wall of resource limits?
The hard wall of resource limits

Electric vehicles may well be ‘zero-emissions’ but they do require an ample supply of rare earth elements to manufacture their battery packs and other electrical elements. An element of particular concern is Lithium which plays a central role in the lithium-ion batteries that have become ubiquitous in EV powertrains. If electric vehicles are to supplant ICE vehicles, then truly vast amounts of lithium and rare earths will be needed. A discomforting concern however, is that we might not actually have vast amounts of these resources… 

To take just one example, a set of leading scientists examined the amount of mineral resources that would be required to meet the UK’s electric car targets for 2050. They found that to produce enough electric cars for the UK alone would require just under two times the current total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters of the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production.

And that’s just for the UK! Unless huge discoveries are made of these key resources the widespread adoption of EV’s may hit a serious stumbling block… giving ICE vehicles a serious reprieve.

The cost factor

At present EVs have a higher up-front cost than their ICE counterparts. Although multiple studies have shown that EVs have lower lifetime running costs than equivalent ICE vehicles this still resembles a barrier to adoption. Put it this way. Fleet managers will typically purchase vehicles based on total cost of ownership. Individuals don’t. The majority of consumers buy a vehicle based on a combination of the up-front purchase price and the monthly loan or lease repayments.

In addition, and somewhat counterintuitively, as higher volume production should theoretically reduce the up-front costs of EVs, higher demand for raw materials for their batteries (e.g. lithium) could see costs for EVs rise further than their present benchmark. BMW Group’s Froelich agrees, “The shift to electrification is overhyped. Battery-electric vehicles cost more in terms of raw materials for batteries. This will continue and could eventually worsen as demand for these raw materials increases.”
Despite the rise of EVs the internal combustion engine continues to evolve and advance
The internal combustion engine hasn’t stopped evolving

As we’ve chronicled in-depth previously here on EngineeringPro, the internal combustion engine certainly isn’t in some kind of stasis. It’s been evolving ever since Henry Ford plonked one in a Model T, and it continues to evolve today. New developments such as Mazda’s focus on improving thermal efficiency, FreeValve’s work on a camless engine, Nissan’s work on a Variable Compression Engine, Mercedes’ project to create maximally efficient mild hybrid engines, and Volvo’s kinetic energy recovery system (to name just a few) all suggest that there’s plenty of life left in the internal combustion engine yet!

Have your say

It’s over to you. Does the internal combustion engine have a future? Will this future be dependent on the shortcomings of electric alternatives? Or will we see a ‘mixed’ future in which there’s a place for internal combustion and electrically powered vehicles depending on the situation and usage scenario? Or maybe you’ve thought of something we’ve missed all together? 

Have your say by voting in the poll at the top of the page or leaving a comment below.

The results will be published along with the best comments on Monday 8th July and will be featured in next week’s EngineeringPro newsletter.
Tags: Automotive
Recent Comments
Am reading a “historical fiction “ book series call The Seventh Carrier. It actually addresses the demise of both jet and rocket engines. The dependable petrol engine is too vital to not be in our future. I’ve seen the fantastic advances throughout the years.
Kenneth Jones, 02 July 2019
Hi CO2 capture and storage for cars will lead to * NICE * cars ! No emmision internal combustion engines in near future and CO2 capsules of cars will be filled while gas tanks are being used . This capsules will be used in commercial processes to produce value added products to recover the cost and NICE cars can easily compete with EV cars and for many more years we will use fossiel fuels with no carbon dioxide emmision. For details call
Seyedali Beheshtinejad, 02 July 2019
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Poll: Does the internal combustion engine have a future? - Time to read 4 min
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