By Steve LeVine
via Wall Street Journal
When most of us picture the high-tech personal mobility of the future, we tend to imagine a sleek, dead-quiet electric car, packed with voice- or motion-directed gizmos and self-driving features. We see ourselves gliding around almost effortlessly, free to talk, work or text as we see fit.
What few of us conjure up is having this sort of experience in a gasoline-fueled car. But that may be changing in the face of recent design advances. The internal combustion engine—the workhorse of the industrial age—is proving to be much more than a stubborn technological incumbent.
More than a century after becoming the dominant way that people move around, gas-powered cars are challenging ostensibly more advanced electric vehicles. It has proved hard to beat combustion engines, and even in 2040, according to forecasting agencies such as the U.S. Energy Information Administration, cars with gas- and diesel-powered engines will still represent some 95% of the international car market. An engine that has attracted particular attention is the Achates, a unique, diesel-fueled technology…
“The Achates doesn’t need any weird sealing, no super materials that don’t exist, and it has no manufacturing issues with ceramics or geometry or anything unusual,” says Don Hillebrand, who heads the advanced combustion unit at Argonne.
Such demands typically cripple vehicle innovation, whether combustion or electric. Most industry experts argue that advances in combustion alone will carry the U.S. vehicle fleet to an average of at least 40 miles a gallon, a big part of the way toward the mandate of 54.5-m.p.g. by 2025. Electrics, along with cars propelled by fuel cells and natural gas, will get the fleet average—the standard used by the government—the rest of the way.
In short, even if motorists maintain their long-standing attachment to the combustion engine in the years ahead, the world may burn 20 million fewer barrels of oil a day—a big chunk of fuel considering that today our overall consumption of oil, for all purposes, is only about 90 million barrels a day. Just as the skyrocketing production of shale oil has shaken the economies and politics of Russia and OPEC in recent months, the global surplus from advances in combustion technology will keep down oil and gasoline prices everywhere.
“Taking the infrastructure we have, using engines we understand with no new costs—that is where we are going in the next 15 years and what is going to compete really effectively with electrics,” Mr. Hillebrand said…
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