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Is the Internal Combustion Engine dead?

IC_engine -660px

Our last blog post lamented the replacement of the noble steam locomotive with it’s thermo-dynamically more efficient Diesel powered cousin.

This week we get our own back, indulge in a bit of schadenfreude and ruminate on the much reported death of the internal combustion engine (which includes Diesel’s invention).

What’s the difference between a Steam and internal combustion engine?

In technical terms the internal combustion engine generally refers to an engine in which combustion of fuel occurs intermittently, like as in four stroke and two stroke piston engines.

Jets and rockets are also technically internal combustion engines but these, like steam engines, constantly burn fuel (possibly why they’re more exciting!) - but the phrase “internal combustion engine” (or ICE) is most commonly understood as the thing that powers your car.

Steam engines fall into the external combustion engine category, where energy is delivered to a working fluid (in this case hot water) which isn’t mixed with the fuel itself.

Put like that it sort of makes sense why cars are powered by ICE’s instead of Steam engines - you only have to cart around one tank full of liquid instead of two!

So when will the ICE disappear?

The replacement of vehicles using ICE’s has been stepped up following the UK governments announcement they want all production of ICE powered vehicles to end by 2040 - ten years ahead of the Paris agreements 2050 target of zero emissions.

This doesn’t mean that car manufacturers are ready to jump ship just yet - just in November 2017 a big cheese at Nissan was reported by Reuters to be committed to improving ICE technology for decades to come.

Shinichi Kiga, head of Nissan’s gasoline engine project group, reported that the new engine they’re developing will have maximum thermal efficiency of around 40 percent, as much as twice the level of current gasoline engines in the industry, which average around 20 to 30 percent.

What alternatives are there to internal combustion engines?

Shinichi Kiga’s final aim is to increase thermal efficiency of his engines to 50% - so he doesn’t expect us to be trading our cars in for milk floats before 2030 but the end is definitely coming

There is a strong possibility we won’t be driving at all - Driverless electric cars in the 21st century are likely to improve the world in profound and unexpected ways, just as vehicles powered by internal combustion engines did in the 20th.

Once you take away the act of driving - whatever power source is moving the vehicle - will we even be interested in owning our own vehicles?

An article in The Economist ruminates on how Electric propulsion could mean that car ownership ends, along with ride-hailing and self-driving technology, by “transport as a service”, in which fleets of cars offer rides on demand.

Frankly, for a whole generation of people used to getting behind the wheel the prospect of having to hand control over to a car that drives itself is likely to be so simultaneously terrifying and mind numbingly boring that anyone born between 1940 and 2020 should probably just buy themselves a bicycle!

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

Do you have any thoughts, comments or views on the demise of the Internal Combustion Engine?

Is there anything you think we should have mentioned?

If there is get in touch and let us know – you can also do it on Facebook or Twitter.

By Alastair Baker at 1 Feb 2018, 00:00 AM