EPA official: the future of the internal combustion engine is bright and clear
5 October 2011
“The future of the IC engine is bright and clear; I don’t think that could be any more obvious to all of us,” said Byron Bunker, Director, Heavy Duty Engine Center, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, US Environmental Protection Agency during his remarks in a panel discussion on the role for internal combustion engines in the energy future at the US Department of Energy’s 2011 Directions in Engine-Efficiency and Emissions Research Conference (DEER) in Detroit.
Even while projecting to the future and talking about batteries and electric vehicles, he said, “when you look at our actual analysis and you look to our projections for the future, 95% or more of the vehicles, all of the heavy-duty vehicles in our analysis are relying on IC engines. The future that we point to [is] very conventional-looking engines.”
Bunker spent the bulk of his presentation describing the new medium- and heavy-duty fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations from EPA and the Department of Transportation. (Earlier post.) However, in closing, he shared some thoughts on attributes of future engines:
Engine should become more robust to fuel variation;
Engine should trade elastic power delivery for higher peak efficiency;
New engines need to be able to be produced in high volume to control costs but tailored to individual duty cycle to optimize performance—especially in the heavy-duty vehicle sector; and
Sophisticated adaptive control schemes and new sensor technologies will be critical.
While many over time have grown dismissive of radical new engine ideas, remember that they have the opportunity to change the dynamic...we should not discount novel engine designs.—Byron Bunker
Bunker’s emphasis on the general ongoing importance of the internal combustion engine—along with the different technology pathways for improving their efficiency—were echoed by a number of DEER speakers, looking at light-duty as well as medium- and heavy-duty sectors.
Hugh Blaxill, Managing Director of Mahle Powertrain, for example, said that the current surge in volume of 4-cylinder engines along with the rapid ramp in direct injection and variable valvetrain technologies across all manufacturers marks the start of a sharp increase in downsized applications and hybrid powertrains.
In the longer term (out toward 2030), Mahle sees increasing downsizing, with a surge in 3-cylinder applications, increasing electrification, and increased use of bio- and gaseous fuels.
In his talk during the opening plenary, Dr. David Greene of Oak Ridge National Laboratory put the importance of improving efficiency in the transportation sector in the broader context of an ultimate transition to a different form of energy—i.e., non-petroleum-based—for transportation.
He suggested that in the face of the three major energy challenges for the global transportation system—climate change mitigation, energy security, and sustainability—“the number one priority, I think, is and should be improving the energy efficiency of the global transportation system.”
Other things are important as well, eventually bringing alternative energy...into the transportation system. Electricity, hydrogen, biofuels. But for right now, our top priority should be what you all are working on which is improving energy efficiency. To do that cost-effectively—which means to do it at all—requires both advanced technology and effective pubic policy.
...At the end of the day, if we are going to get to a sustainable transportation system, for 2050 and beyond, and if we are going to get to petroleum independence...I mean shrinking the problem to a manageable size which we can do without getting completely off of oil, if we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level to avoid dangerous climate change, ultimately almost certainly we are going to have to introduce a different form of energy to run our transportation system.
As I said, this will be a whole lot easier if we can double the energy efficiency of transportation at the same time. Let’s shrink the size of that task by a factor of four. That’s very important.
There have been major energy transitions in the past...they have all be driven by market forces. We are facing a much more difficult challenge, I believe, which is to induce a transition to alternative energy for public goods. For energy security, for protection of the environment, and for sustainability of energy for future generation. These are not going to be achieved by market forces.
So we are embarking on something that is new and different and hasn’t been done before by human society. Improving energy efficiency will shrink the size of that task by a factor of four, and it is our number one, most important priority today.—David Greene
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