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The internal combustion engine isn't dead yet



“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” said Mark Twain back in May 1897.

Fast-forward to April 2019 and it could be said that reports of the death of the internal combustion engine are greatly exaggerated too.

Talk abounds about the rise of electric vehicles. But does the hype match the reality?

According to a recent energy forecast report from BP, electric vehicle numbers are expected to rise from 1.2 million in 2015 to around 100 million by 2035 (accounting for 6% of the total global vehicle fleet). Around a quarter of these vehicles are expected to be plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), which run on a mix of electric power and oil, whilst three-quarters will be pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

Yes, this represents a significant growth in the overall size of the global vehicle market during the period in question. But, as a percentage of the global vehicle total, electric vehicles compose a negligible total.

It’s clear that the traditional internal combustion engine will continue to power the majority of vehicle propulsion for at least the next two decades.

The growth of electric vehicles and their identification in the public consciousness as the future of personal transportation obscures the significant advances that have been made with internal combustion technology.

By 2035, the average passenger car is expected to achieve almost 50 miles per (US) gallon, compared to the less than 30 mpg achieved by passenger cars in 2015 (Figures via BP’s Energy Outlook 2017). I’m sure you’ll agree that this represents a fast rate of efficiency improvement.

The internal combustion engine continues to advance, and many industry leaders are adamant that the internal combustion engine is not going to go away anytime soon.

Vice President at Mercedes-Benz cars, Bernhard Heil, firmly believes “there will always be a place for internal combustion.”

Wilko Stark, head of Mercedes-Benz’s product and strategy, echoes this belief:

“Not even one in 300 vehicles on the road has electric drive yet, and 99% of customers are still choosing combustion engines.”

That industry-leaders continue to invest confidence in the internal combustion engine means that we can expect R&D efforts on this 100-year-old technology to continue.

So what technical developments are on the horizon for internal combustion? And how do they stack up against the electric competition?

Find the answers to these questions and more in the infographic below:
What technical developments are on the horizon for internal combustion? And how do they stack up against the competition? This infographic from Fircroft reveals all....
With these technical developments underway, and evidence of a growing appetite for hybrids amongst both manufacturers and consumers, perhaps the question that should be posed is not ‘is the internal combustion engine on it’s death bed?’ but rather, ‘do pure battery electric vehicles really have a future?’

The prevailing rationale for electric vehicles is largely predicated on the assumption that they offer a zero-emissions form of personal transportation.

This assumption is based on a flaw. The electricity to power an electric vehicle must come from somewhere- and what electric car advocates often fail to acknowledge is that this electricity predominantly comes from fossil fuels. After all, coal, oil and natural gas combined produce over 65% of electricity across the globe.

With these factors considered, it might be time for the popular consensus that internal combustion engines are ‘on their death bed’ to be parked. Yes, internal combustion engines will continue to evolve to become more efficient and less polluting, but it looks like they’ll be powering vehicles for years to come.

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Tags: Automotive
Recent Comments
interesting article, so the fossil fuel powered cars get 15% of their energy to the wheels, that would make 1890Wh/kg based on the given value in the article. The question is that these values are valid for all type of cars? Gasoline / diesel engine? 70 kW or 300 kW power engines? ... The author forgot to mention that the electric "zero emission" vehicles rely a little more on fossil reserves than just the power they receive from the grid. Because these cars also need tyres and in the interior a lot of elements will be made of plastic (floor mats, dash panel, door panels, seats, safety belts...and the list could go on), rubber and plastic that requires oil and gas in the manufacturing process. Of course some of the plastic needs can be covered by recycling, but not all of it. What will happen with the hundreds of millions of 20 year old battery packs once these electric cars are sent to the "graveyard"? I don't think they will be 100% recycled. 20 years from now those battery packs will be considered as ancient as a Pentium PC nowadays : (
Laszlo Lorant Feher, 03 April 2019
Simple; electric car's they'll never last. Problems for our environment, this world is lost... We are not going to recycle 100 of millions of the batteries in the next 20 years...!!! Nature VS Technology...
Armando Americo Nhancale, 04 April 2019
Sitting on a 350+ VOLTS motor and its electro-magnetic field?? Frying the family diamonds and catching CANCER?? NO thanks, I will never drive one, if you give it to me FREE.
ANDRE GURSES, 10 April 2019
Electric motors are fine for cars, having high torque from low rpm's they allow to eliminate gearbox, and being 2 or even 4 they allow to realise AWD without transfer box, making transmission much simpler and lighter. But batteries can store very little amount of energy comparing to fossil fuel, and as a result, electric cars are made like plastic-aluminium toys, sacrificing all good stuff to reduce weight (=increase range). I see future in hybrid cars, where IC engine is powering electric generator, like in some modern mining trucks.
Murad, 10 April 2019
The technical devolpments on the ICE cited in the article suggest more mechanical complexity and the addition of moving parts ( including the use of fluid actuated valve technology; Implicit in this is less reliability or at least greater reliability risk - which notches the value of pure EVs higher. Fundamentally, the EM is the most reliable prime mover avilable. Energy recovery systems are laudible but will continue to struggle for competitive advantage for the ordinary buyer unless economic models are changed more to value addition and less about cost. Finally it is not entirely fair to penalise EVs in isolation with the burden of the generation of electric power from fossil fuels. The use of both electrical energy and chemical energy in gasoline is enabled through fossil fuel transformation of some sort. However, large scale efficiency gains in power generation mixes have more potential for positive influence than small incremental efficiency gains at ICE level.
Anthony Sinanan, 10 April 2019
If you care about the environment you shouldn't be driving any type of car, period. There are plenty of alternatives to haul a person around. Andre Gurses, you seem to care about the effects of radiation inside an EV on the driver, but you don't seem to care about leaving a trail of highly neurotoxic and carcinogenic hydrocarbons as you ride, for pedestrians and cyclists to breath in. Neither do ICE users seem to care about the trails of toxic fumes from other cars they ride in for hours on end on the highway. What, do you think your little 10 year old cabin filter keeps that stuff out? Give me a break.
John, 20 July 2019
Good well written article, but fails to mention the possibilities of EV's using a type of Flow battery where the car is not plugged in to charge it up. It would just pull in to electrolyte exchange station where the tank containing the spent electrolyte is drained & filled with freshly charged electrolyte. This could see EV's being able to travel further & being refuled in a fraction of the time. But it's very early days & needs a whole new infrastructure to cope with the change, EV's need time to evolve & if refuled at home largely by solar can be a really green source of power. This could be done even with the flow type of batteries if the electrolyte charging can be leased at the correct price allowing for it to be energised while your at work & swap it out once a week or so depending on ussage.
Lord Alan Chapman, 14 August 2019
The only comment that is enough to shut the mouths of people who believe BEVs to be eco-friendly. "The electricity to power an electric vehicle must come from somewhere- and what electric car advocates often fail to acknowledge is that this electricity predominantly comes from fossil fuels. After all, coal, oil and natural gas combined produce over 65% of electricity across the globe." So yes, you may think that daily driving a BEV is actually tree-hugging. you are creating more nuisance for the environment, because as someone said after 20 years those battery packs would rot in a junkyard, creating more junk and pollution. Not to mention already the harm done to the ecosystems, cause we would need to mine tonnes and tonnes of rare earth metals to be put in those battery packs. At-least parts of ICE cars are still being recycled all over the world. You still rebuild engines and transmissions. I wonder why people aren't talking about biofuels, like WVO or E85. That industry could take off if given proper incentives. If ethanol can really be extracted from organic matter (primarily natural sugars), than we really don't need to burn down our stubbles, or incinerate our infected crops. And moreover people can have jobs if the focus went to biofuels.
Sumit B, 19 February 2020
The funniest comment belongs to John who believes that there are many alternatives to haul people around! Airplane? Uses fossil fuel You can't build your own airport in your backyard Ship? Uses fossil fuel You can't use ship on the streets Bus? Uses fossil fuel Bicycle? Best option But you can't travel from one city to another when you're in hurry
Arvin, 31 May 2020
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