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EPA official: the future of the internal combustion engine is bright and clear

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



Cars will go BEV, but heavy equipment is going in the direction of the diesel-electric locomotive. In this way heavy equipment will still be ICE powered, and will make it much easier to make fuel-cell, battery, bio-fuel etc. variations.


I wouldn't be so sure about cars going pure BEV.
I think some degree of hybridisation is much more likely.
It really depends on improvements in batteries which seems to be a lot more talk than walk.
You can make a big improvement in efficiency with a HEV and an even bigger one with a PHEV, even a small battery PHRV like the Prius PHEV.
That is where I would put my money for the next 20-30 years.

Account Deleted

I think the future of the combustion engine is mostly to function as range extenders in battery electric vehicles where the combustion engine is designed for maximum peak efficiency, high power density and in case of commercial vehicles also for durability. The problem with toxic emissions from combustion engines could be addressed by using cleaner burning fuels in the future such as natural gas, ethanol or perhaps hydrogen.

You could also imagine a society where renewable energy like wind turbines and hydropower produced most of the electricity but where the necessary backup power was delivered to the grid by fuel based range extenders in millions of parked plug-in vehicles instead of central power plants. It could all be controlled by a smart grid with prices for electricity that constantly changed according to demand and supply in each local area.


In their last dying days, the efficiency of ICE will be increased from 20% to 25% to over 50%. It will never reach the 95+% of current e-motors nor the 98+% of future e-motors. They will never be as smooth, low noise, clean as e-motors. Future e-vehicles with 4 electronically controlled in or near wheel e-motors will be superior an cheaper than current ICE equivalent.

That being said, they may find an extended life in heavy vehicles, trains, ships and heavy machinery, at least until such time as larger more efficient FCs and hydrogen are affordable.


With most of private world transport intra-urban, EV batteries still need generator sets for inter-urban trips.

A cheap, light, small, reasonably efficient battery plus similar genset(constant velocity one rotor Wankel, 2-3 cylinder ICE, ??) would make someone $billions.


"The future of the IC engine is bright and clear"

This is Bunk(er)! The statement infers that the future of alternative energy storage is predetermined. What happens if Li-Air becomes competitive? In that case why would anyone want a noisy, smelly, diesel? The likely energy storage of Li-Air would be the same as gasoline, when combined with the superior efficiency of the electric drive train over the ICE. Fuel cells are a possibility too. But, the main thing is the intensive R&D around the world, which is attempting to replace the ICE. How does Bunker justify his "bright and clear" (to 2030) argument with this R&D uncertainty?


Of course IC engines will never reach 98% efficiency, they are not work conversion devices like motors. Electricity is not energy, its work.

Don't forget the electricity for most e-motors is made by converting coal to electricity at ~30% efficiency by a combustion process.

Thermo 101, here people...


Electricity from dirty coal is another dying technology. It should go the same way as the wood stoves.


Oy Ve the sky is falling for the Spinach party. But then that's no problem since they still believe in pie in the sky ie cheap lithium ion batteries.

As a matter of fact these batteries are right around the corner to appear as if by magic in the year 2020.


I said many time to start selling fuelcell cars and trucks and also fuelcell tractor-trailer trucks, big machineries, trains, airplanes, ships and electric generation power plants, is it clear or not ...
The ice is inneficient and also i already own and operate an ice in my 2005 car, so it must be replaced by something better and cheaper without fuel cost and no pollution and better drivability and breaking power and more adapted for canadian winter with better traction-control on wet, snowwy and icy roads. They already scrap the drivability of ice cars since 2005 approx because they rely on ultra lean operation to save gas and also they tricked the gas pedal with electronic programmation again to save fuel, all that equal to bad drivability and as much as an ice save fuel then as much as the drivability is bad with hiccups on acceleration, uneven acceleration, un-predictive pedal respond, harsh speed shifting, vibrations at low speed, bad traction control, etc.
Fuelcell have none of these drawbacks, cost less, cost less to fuel and do not pollute. Gm, toyota, ford, chrysler, etc are direct petrol resellers and still offer mainly ice vehicle to the consumer to promote gasoline use and they are impeded real progress, now they directly promote again the goo'l old ice. Postpone any ice expenditure till they start selling fuelcell cars and trucks, ships and locomotives(trains).


Increased pollution does not favor many oil (liquid fuel) sources. See relative pollution below:

1. from conventional oil = 87.5 g.
2. from tar sands oil = 107 g. (an increase of almost 23%)
3. from shale oil = 131 g. (an increase of almost 49%)
4. from coal oil = 172 g. (an increase of almost 96%)

It would be interesting to get relative figures for corn ethanol, other bio-fuels, for NG and SG etc.


It's interesting to see this debate going on; I didn't think that BEVs had a chance of entering the mainstream 4 years ago because of the power the Republicans had and used to protect the oil companies and the money Big Oil put into their elections. This is not new news, the war against the middle-class has been going on for thirty years.

We can thank the CEO of Nissan for sticking his neck out and taking the chance to bring his BEV commuter car, The Leaf, to market. Many are correct when they say the future of BEVs is based on improvements and reduced costs of battery technology. Well, there are many variations of battery in the labs right now that promise these improvements; And, many can be moved into production as soon as they are human engineered. Tesla has announced their new sedan model that will go 330 miles, with a one hour recharge; that should allow one to exceed 500 miles of driving in one day.

There are folks that predict that the tipping point for the popularity of BEVs will be as early as 2017. Yes, the "Bought Republicans" can delay the introduction of BEVs; but, they cannot change the people's desire to better their lives through technology and that force will turn dirty ICEs into museum pieces.

I see trucks moving into the hybrid stage as they take advantage of the low speed torque of the electric motor to assist in acceleration and to natgas for cruise power.


Lad, I hope that you are correct and that we will not see a major change (a complete 360 turn about in favor of gas guzzlers) in current pro BEVs policy, after November 2012. It would be a major step backward for USA, specially if Asia continues to push forward for the mass production of lower cost electrified vehicles.

By the way, India is marketing a $50 tablet/computer for students. A small 7-inch version operating on Android. That's almost 1/10 the price of others.

Chad Snyder

I'm sorry, but it's just silly to blame Republicans for the lack of BEVs.

European automakers aren't morons and petro fuels cost significantly more there than in the US, so their market is naturally more supportive than the US. If batteries made cost-effective sense, VW would have every incentive to build them regardless of what US consumers or Republicans demand.

The bulk of today's lithium technologies have been around for 30 years now. Yes, materials science is upgrading many aspects of these batteries, but almost assuredly next gen batteries, such as the lithium-air mentioned in a previous comment, will be required to achieve real mainstreaming.

But, again, it took 30 years for lithium to make its ways into the auto sector and many prominent battery researchers have suggested that it won't be surprising if it takes 30 years for next gen battery technologies to cost-effectively scale into auto production either.

Hopefully, battery science takes an unexpected leap forward, as science sometimes does, but any honest, open-minded person HAS to accept that their is plenty of science to suggest that the battery revolution is going to take decades -- and much of that science has been studied and accepted by the Obama Admin, the EPA, essentially every automotive forecaster, and the bulk of automakers.


Get real. Check out Deloitte's latest BEV consumer study for a dose of reality. Consumers want 300+ miles, full charges in less than 2 hours, and they don't want to pay a premium. That means a Volt needs to cost about the same as a Cruze, and outside of a miracle that is not going to happen by 2017.

I'm a huge plug-in fan and will make a plug-in my next car, but if one is serious about global warming or foreign oil dependence, then it has to be accepted that plug-ins are not yet the critical technology and waiting for plug-ins to become the critical technology is counter-productive.

Much can be, and should be, done until batteries hit their sweet spot in the market. The legacy effect of the billion + and growing fleet of vehicles already on the world's roads demands it.


Gang, I know this is diappointing, but doesn't the evidence really support the EPA here? Peak oil theory is being proved out, in that as the price rises more oil comes on line from ever more extreme sources or biosubstitutes. Every day we see efficiency inpromvements from 1%-10% per innovation in ICEs and mild hybrids, and the roadmap in weight reduction, combustion efficiency, kinetic and electric energy recovery, waste heat power generation, etc, altogether indicate that 50mpg 3000lb cars will be the norm in the US in 20 years, and that 2500lb, 70MPG cars will be the norm in in Europe and Asia. With those facts, with the slow rate of battery improvment, the inherent incumbency advantages of the current equipment and fuel distribution and maintenance systems, and the long life of cars, aren't we looking at 2050-2070 before we see 50% BEVs on the road?

Nick Lyons

Liquid fuels are just too frigging convenient--energy dense, quick refueling, simple storage, etc. Drop in replacement synthetic fuels are going to be very attractive as a way to convert renewables/nuclear energy into transportation.


Never before has "bright and clear" looked so dark and cloudy.

Actually, even today the electricity for most e-motors is NOT made by converting coal to electricity.
As of 2010, America's grid mix is at:
1 Coal 49%
2 Natural gas 21%
3 Nuclear 20%
4 Hydro-power 6%
5 Other renewables 4%
6 Fuel oil 1%

The percentage for coal has been dropping every year for a while now and is likely to continue. What's more, the special case of E-cars looks even better: When recharge stations for electric cars are set up the people that do it are almost always trying to make green points so they almost always also install green energy systems to power the recharge station, so even more E-cars are powered by solar/wind than the rest of the things on the grid. People who drive E-cars are driving a push to green energy.


People who buy BEVs or ICEs don't care about the well to wheel efficiency. They care about the performance of their own vehicle. That's what drives the market, not some conservation policy of the EPA or DOE. So if Li-Air or some other technology gives equivalent milage and other performance, people and companies will buy them instead of gas or diesel ICEs. Where the electricity comes from and whether or not a battery has stored energy or work is irrelevant.

Actual products and markets for BEVs already exist and lots of R&D mean a promising future for them. In addition, the cost per mile for BEVs is much lower than for ICEs, and this mitigates lower range or cost of battery storage. Maintenance costs should be lower considering BEV motors have only one moving part compared to 250 in ICEs. Range isn't the only factor, but I believe there is a big market for 100-200 mile range BEVs at competitive cost.


Zhukova's assumptions are mostly correct and will remain so unless we change our attitude in the next decade or two. An extended economic crisis (10+ years) may contribute to a general change in behavior. With much less $$$ available to own and operate large cars, many may elect to buy much lighter, partially or fully electrified units.

By 2020+ affordable lighter BEVs will have 300+ miles range and will be competitive with equivalent ICE units when total life time cost is used. Improved quick charge, higher capacity batteries (80+ Kwh @ 600+ Wh/Kg) at under $200/Kwh will make a difference.


ai_vin...power plants mix varies a lot from country to country or region to region. Ours is currently 96% hydro, 2% nuclear and 2% wind. Nuclear may go down to zero soon (old CANDU reactor may be de-activated) and wind may go up to 4+% by 2015/2017. By 2030 or so we may be close to 80% Hydro and 20% wind. I doubt very much if we ever go back to coal fired power plants.


"EPA official: the future of the internal combustion engine is bright and clear"

Anyone now doubt who EPA works for??


It is hilarious to see the eco-nitwits braying at a EPA worker saying the ICE will exist for the foreseeable future.

If the Volt is too expensive, you can take your half million dollar fuel cells, and firmly plant them in your imaginations because that is where they will stay. Nobody can afford them.

The qualitative scientific hypothesis of CAGW has been pretty much been proved false by the quantitative science of the 21st century. Further it has been confirmed by real life. The eco-loon Jimmy Hansen wanted us to go back to the caves in 1988. He and loony friends predicted the world would still warm much more than it has, even so. He was a loon then, and remains one, but his prophecies are tarnished today. the North and South American continents produce no NET CO2. So their is no need to address the so-called problem in America at all. we have sacrificed an created more than enough bio-sequestration sites already, even if we commonly call them National Parks.

There has been no warming for going on 16 years after a 19 year period of minutely escalating temperatures.

Meanwhile the increase atmospheric content of a trace gas CO2, is greening the Planet as reported by the NASA satellites. That is wholly benign, and Mankind is repairing the Planet for the true eco-catastrophe that the Planet's Flora did, by consuming the atmospheric CO2 to starvation and stunting levels for them.

Efficiency is biting too. The search for substitutes has succeeded. It took some forty years, but the answers are becoming available.

US Oil demand is down to 18 million barrels per day from over 21. That is a decrease of 3 parts in 18, or 16%, and the decline is accelerating. Meanwhile US domestic Oil production is up, due to new technology, and approaching the high point reached in the mid 1970s. We have also created a synthetic fuel industry producing 15% of our demand.

Dis you ever expect a non-signee the USA would be the only country to achieve the Kyoto treaty targets? But the US emissions are down to mid-1990s levels already, just a little way to its targeted 1990 level.

Together our imported Oil demand is therefor way, way down. Energy independence is now actually feasible. Our Oil finds are pushing the time before we exhaust supplies to a thousand years or more. So much for the Peakist idiots.

The ITER Fusion reactor in France is half built in its 10 year construction cycle. It does not have any electric generators in its construction plan. But if it did it would be more reliably produce power than any Solar or Wind installation; and it would also produce more electricity then any so called renewable plant, in the world.

The next Fusion reactor after the ITER experiment, WILL add power to the grid, and solve in perpetuity the need for energy. The wait for clean and inexhaustible Fusion is drawing to a close, finally. But of course the eco-nitwits don't know, or want to know that.


Interesting comments on peak oil. Why do you think people are drilling in 5km of ocean and another 3km of rock for relatively small amounts of oil? This would not be happening if the easy to obtain, cheaply produced oil was still available.There have been no super-giant fields discovered in decades. The oil may be there but the overriding question is whether it is economical to produce.Once the energy retrurned on energy invested ratio gets too low, as in most (unsubsidised)biofuels, you can forget about it.

Global oil producation plateaued about five years ago in the face of increasing demand. US demand may be going down but China and India's is ever-increasing.

As for climate change, there are so many factual errors above I wouldn't know where to start. All I can say is form your views based on the specialists, like National Academies of Sciences, not random comments on this forum.

Roger Pham

Of course, the future of the ICE is bright and clear. Even though PHEV's are becoming more and more practical within the next few years, a highly-efficient and down-sized ICE is still vital as range extender and for winter use, for which purpose, the fuel efficiency can approach 100%, depending on how efficiently waste heat is recuperated for cabin heating, when the engine run on a "heat-lead" mode just to produce waste heat for cabin heating and wind-shield defrosting.

The only Fusion reactors that I can foresee are those made by Ford, available in 4, 6 cylinders and also hybrid electric.


The next Fusion reactor after the ITER experiment, WILL add power to the grid, and solve in perpetuity the need for energy. The wait for clean and inexhaustible Fusion is drawing to a close, finally. But of course the eco-nitwits don't know, or want to know that.

I wouldn't hold my breath for Fusion.
In the 70's people said it was 50 yrs away. The older guys said that in the 50's people were saying 50 yrs away.

Today, nobody can see this thing being harnessed. So I'll give it an optimistic 25 yrs.

However, with all of the technical advances going on, I do think that one day energy will be virtually free just as water (almost) is today. With free energy, you can generate clean water. I'll put this at 25 to 50 yrs out.

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