In Defence of Internal Combustion Engine

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Kelly Senecal, one of the original developers of the CONVERGE computational fluid dynamics software package has a case in point when he says that in order to go green we must keep improving the Internal Combustion engine.

The other day, Senecal made a presentation at TEDx Madison to counter “over-simplified statements” by those who were trying to convey that the internal combustion engine has already lived its life, just as typewriters, and the new age belongs to the electric vehicles.

Here is an excerpt from Senecal’s TEDx presentation:

Pop culture in the media has many of us believing that we are already on the cusp of a post-fossil fuel society but it is actually much further away than many of you might think.

In 2008 when a gallon of gasoline was about $4, President Obama set a goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by the end of 2015. But actually only about 400,000 electric vehicles were sold in that time frame – why not more? Why not consumers were flocking to electric vehicles? Well the answer is pretty straight forward. Fuel prices came way down, electric vehicles cost more, they have a limited range, and there is a limited availability of charging stations. In fact the (US) department of Energy projects that in 2040 about 99 per cent of new cars sold in the US will still use the internal combustion engine. So think about that, in 25 years most of the cars on the road in the US will still use the internal combustion engine.

Internal combustion engine

Now Prius and Tesla have become household names. and why wouldn’t they, they are green. But remember Prius uses what is known as a hybrid engine which is a combination of an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. Now Tesla and other electric vehicles they aren’t in fact fully electric. The cars themselves produce zero emissions and zero greenhouse gases.
It’s not just about the car. There are a lot of other issues that should be considered when we thin about total emissions from a vehicle.

Source Ford Motor Company

I’m going to focus on one of those – the energy sources for electricity. Where is the electricity that powers your electric vehicle come from? In 2015, about two-thirds of the electricity in the US came from fossil fuels. Guess what in 1985 about two-third of the electricity in the US also came from fossil fuels. We have definitely made a positive transition from coal to natural gas in that time frame and that’s great but the fact is on a percentage basis the amount of fossil fuels used to create electricity in the US has remained unchanged for the last 30 years.

Another example is China, 75 per cent of their electricity comes from fossil fuels -specifically coal in majority. But then you have country like Norway. In Norway, very little of fossil fuels is used to create electricity. About 90 per cent of their electricity comes from hydro-electric power which is powered by the potential energy of damned water. So in Norway for example, electric vehicles do in fact produce zero or near-zero emissions because fossil fuels don’t come into the play. So it is possible but the problem is that zero emissions vehicles – Green cars that are truly green – only make up a very small portion of the cars that are on the road today. To go green, we must keep improving the internal combustion engine.

Click here for Kelly Senecal’s TEDxMadison presentation In Defense of Internal Combustion