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Improving the internal combustion engine

Internal combustion engineers, chemists and scientists are planning to squeeze another century out of the machines.
There are 1.4 billion internal combustion engine vehicles worldwide today. Even the staunchest hater of these engines concedes there will still be 1.4 billion vehicles in 2050.

WESTERN PRODUCER — Researchers are making progress to allow both diesel and gasoline burners to meet carbon criteria and the future needs

While David Suzuki supporters may call for the immediate death of internal combustion engines, engineers, chemists and scientists are planning to squeeze another century out of them.

There are 1.4 billion internal combustion engine vehicles worldwide today. Even the staunchest hater of these engines concedes there will still be 1.4 billion vehicles in 2050. And demand is growing as the world’s population rises.

Researchers are making progress, which will allow both diesel and gasoline burners to meet carbon criteria and the future needs of the human race. Some of those include:

  • petroleum fuels that have no carbon
  • fuels that dramatically reduce friction within the engine
  • high pressure fuel systems that optimize fuel efficiency
  • hydrogen fuel

On Dec. 15, the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF) hosted a webinar that delved into the Future for Internal Combustion Engines and Fuels in a Reduced Carbon World. The panel included innovators and upper management executives from the farm implement industry, fuel industry and engine manufacturers. The Western Producer was invited to monitor the event.

The webinar kicked off with a statement that diesel, gasoline and natural gas currently fuel internal combustion engines in nearly all of our world’s vehicles, as well as the global economy. We need to develop better fuel technology for these engines, the statement said.

Kelly Senecal is founder of Convergent Science, a computational fluid dynamics and engineering company. He is co-author of the book Racing Toward Zero: The Untold Story of Driving Green. He also founded the HugYourEngine website.

“We are making a big mistake in the transportation sector, including cars, with a concentrated push toward battery electric vehicles. Instead of pushing electric vehicles as a singular silver bullet solution, we should educate and incentivize diverse technologies. We should come to grips with the fact that liquid-fueled (internal combustion engine) vehicles will make up a significant portion of our fleet for years to come.”

Senecal says the world is focused too heavily on tailpipe emissions. A battery electric vehicle gives a perfect score on the tailpipe test because there is no combustion, therefore no tailpipe. The traditional method of measuring emissions does not account for the carbon footprint created when the battery electric car or truck is manufactured or the mining and production of the battery or the daily charge.

This turns the emission problem into somebody else’s problem. The consumer buys an electric car with no guilt. You drive away with a clean green conscience. Let the government and industry figure out how to actually build and propel clean green cars. Senecal says the zero emission vehicle does not reduce emissions in the least. It merely kicks the can down the road.

“Every zero CO2 vehicle manufactured allows the company to insert that vehicle into their corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) formula. Their total emissions can remain the same. We have introduced a new class of vehicles without a means to evaluate them. Therefore, sales of zero emission vehicles allow for more and more sales of large low-fuel-economy, high-carbon-footprint vehicles.

“That’s where lifecycle analysis comes to the rescue. This system measures the energy used to charge that vehicle, along with the infrastructure to enable that charge. Mining the required elements and manufacturing the batteries is very carbon intensive. Lifecycle analysis is cradle to grave accounting that starts at the mine.”

He said that in third party comparisons of conventional internal combustion, battery elective and hybrid vehicles, assumptions are often made in favor battery electric vehicles. People in charge make overly optimistic predictions. Some studies only compared internal combustion engines to battery electric vehicles, which favored battery electric vehicles in terms of carbon footprint. Hybrids have been omitted from many comparisons.

“And that’s a real problem, because hybrids are the fastest way to reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles. They should be treated as such. We need a diverse portfolio of solutions. We need technology neutral regulations. Engineering, not politics, should drive future transportation policy.”

Panelists expressed their commitment that technology-neutral, outcome-based solutions and performance standards should guide policy.

“We need technology neutral incentives,” said Cummins executive director Cathy Choi. “A single solution is not going to win. We need to be technology-neutral, performance-based. We need to look at performance data without a pre-conceived favorite solution.”

John Pinson, chief executive officer at Stanadyne, a developer of fuel pumps and fuel injectors for diesel and gasoline engines, said his company is pushing the frontier of high pressure fuel systems.

“Low carbon and zero carbon fuels are on the horizon. We’re focused on new technology that will improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine. Our research so far points to high pressure liquid fuel systems and gaseous fuels such as hydrogen. The low and zero carbon liquid fuels are going to be important. We should really consider (internal combustion engines) as part of the solution.

Looking into the future, he sees major investments for up-grading and de-carbonizing existing internal combustion units at electric generation stations, mines and ships. He had another message to engine manufacturers. “Design new engines to be remanufactured. Look at the long-term sustainability of the engine.”

Matt Leuk, technical manager at the Finish company Neste, joined the webinar from Finland. Neste is the world’s largest producer of renewable fuels, with five refineries around the world.

Leuk said, “Existing diesel engines can run on a low-emissions renewable diesel. Basically, renewable diesel is a drop-in replacement for hydrocarbon diesel. There really are no issues running it in these new engines. It literally is diesel from a different source. We supply John Deere and other OEMs. They set the criteria and we meet their requirement.”

Pierre Guyot, senior vice-president of power systems at John Deere, joined the webinar from Paris.

“We build engines from 20 horsepower to 900 h.p., and they each have their own challenges. Before you commit to batteries, remember if you want to build a 500 h.p. tractor, you need maybe four tons of batteries. Maybe you need a trailer to pull them.”

Troy Kantola, a product manager at Tenneco, a Chicago manufacturer of OEM components for automotive, transport and heavy construction industries, says there are three major motivating technologies: liquid fuel, fuel cells and batteries. There’s not one of those technologies that can be favoured. They’re all equally difficult. They all have weaknesses, such as:

  • where the feedstocks come from
  • equipping the world with the ability to plug in their cars
  • how will the hydrogen be sourced?

Adam Schubert is a senior partner at Stillwater Associates, a fuel industry consulting firm dealing.

“A key aspect of reducing the carbon footprint is to develop acceptable fuels to power the legacy fleet. It’s not economically viable to replace the entire fleet of existing (internal combustion engine) machines. We have to work with the legacy fleet,” said Schubert.

“The people buying new equipment must first know that any new technology is reliable, meets the criteria and there’s a steady supply of carbon-neutral fuel at a reasonable cost.

“Fuel suppliers will need to supply all of the vehicles, legacy and new, for as long as they’re on the road. An overriding concern is that the refineries are limited in what they produce. Their three fuels are gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. They have very limited leeway in adjusting the ratios of those three fuels.”

Panelists stressed that additional standardization of how decarbonization efforts are measured would be helpful. They agreed that the lifecycle analysis is more useful than simply considering tailpipe emissions.

“We need to make sure that with the urgency we have on global warming, that we take every option to decarbonize,” said John Deere’s Pierre Guyot.

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