Industryweek 1230 Davidjohnson

Viewpoint: To Tackle the World's Energy Problems, We Need to Make All Engine Technologies More Efficient

Jan. 24, 2012
Electrification is only part of the solution to reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no one solution to address the issues facing the transportation industry.

Electric vehicles are a viable solution for some consumers and industries, but they will not be a panacea. Significant improvements across a range of transportation technologies are necessary in light of dwindling petroleum reserves and global warming concerns.

The industry debate is currently centered on whether hybrid and electric vehicles are the wave of the future. But only focusing the discussion on one or few solutions is missing the opportunity, the bigger picture -- and the point.

Johnson: For the transportation industry to have the biggest impact on the world's energy problems, we need "substantial innovations" in our liquid hydrocarbon fuels and electrification technologies.
Sustainable transportation technologies need to be both environmentally sustainable and economically sustainable. Since almost all transportation vehicles carry their own energy, the technology to store and use the energy must be small, light and affordable.

That said, for more than 100 years, the most-effective energy-conversion system for cars, trucks, trains and ships has been the internal-combustion engine, powered by liquid hydrocarbons.

Even if the price of liquid hydrocarbons rises faster than the price of electricity, any vehicle that travels moderate distances or carries heavy loads will continue to use gasoline or diesel engines.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Environmental Protection Agency estimate that under the most aggressive scenario for vehicle electrification, 86% of new cars and an even greater portion of new trucks in 2025 will continue to rely upon internal-combustion engines.

If we want to make the greatest possible impact on the transportation industry, globally, we need substantial innovations that evolve and improve the effectiveness of not only our traditional liquid hydrocarbon fuels -- such as gasoline and diesel -- but also the electrification technologies that power EVs, PEVs and hybrids.

This could mean using renewable fuels made from algae, cellulosic stock or other sources to reduce our dependence on imported petroleum, lower greenhouse gas emissions as well as increase the lifetime output of electrification technologies.

In addition, all forms of engines will need the highest-possible conversion efficiency so they can get the most mileage and efficiency from their source of energy.

Diesel Engines Are a Key Ingredient

We also need the most efficient engines. Diesel engines -- which are in our trucks, trains, ships and passenger vehicles -- are a key ingredient in this transformation, because they are much more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines, emit less carbon dioxide and more importantly, by applying innovation, also can be made more efficient with less cost.

Additionally, these engines can help accelerate the transformation of fleet and passenger vehicles without having to rely on government incentive. To substantially reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, we need widespread deployment of advanced technology, which we cannot subsidize to scale.

Other forms of alternative vehicles -- such as electrics -- will have a place alongside clean, efficient, low-cost engines, while hybrids could benefit from incorporating these improved engines in their next-generation vehicles.

By improving all forms of engine technologies, the industry will be able to produce more environmentally friendly, cost-effective modes of transportation that will successfully address the world's needs.

David Johnson is president and CEO of Achates Power Inc., a San Diego-based company that develops "radically improved" internal-combustion engines.

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