Theoretically: Could advanced gas engines make electrication irrelevant?
Are plug-ins to follow the path of fuel cells?
I’ve made it clear that I don’t believe the hybrid and plug-in hype is fading into irrelevance because of advancements in gasoline engines, which undoubtedly have the capability to achieve much higher levels of efficiencies. Of course, those gasoline engines will never be as efficient as electrification.
Still, it is undeniable that costs are still a major hurdle limiting plug-in, and even hybrid, potential. Perhaps even for decades.
So, just for fun, could much more fuel efficient gasoline engines make hybrids and EVs forever unnecessary?
Today the plug-in hype of recent years is being countered — maybe matched — by technologies like Ecoboost and 40 mpg compacts. Automakers even claim that such technologies and vehicles achieve hybrid fuel economy without the hybrid price — at least in some conditions. When you run the real world numbers, it’s obvious that automakers are deceiving themselves, the public, or both. Hey, but that’s just part of the profit-making business.
Thus, in the real world advanced gasoline engines are an improvement, but they are not as great as advertised. 40 mpg can quickly become more like 30 mpg for average city drivers — and the future of transportation according to most experts. Therefore, if the US, for instance, were determined to become foreign oil independent, advanced gasoline engines are not enough.
But, can this gap be bridged without batteries?
Clearly, that means some kind of change in fueling capabilities, such a massive increase in unconventional oil and natural gas drilling, biofuels, synthetic fuels, etc. But could they really get the job done, cheaply? Moreover, over time could such a path continue to provide the most bang for the energy buck?
If we set aside pollution worries, such as global warming or the massive amounts of water needed to frack oil and gas, it seems plausible that the US could end its dependence upon foreign oil without a massive embrace of electrification. As a result, theoretically, I’d say that gasoline engines could today make electrification irrelevant.
I know what you’re thinking. Those fossil fuels will eventually run out, and you’re right. But if we can squeeze another 50 years out of them, it’s plausible a new generation of biofuels, such as from some artificial form of photosynthesis, or synthetic fuels from nuclear power, for instance, could eventually be developed on a scale to replace fossil fuels, without the need for batteries.
But would such a path really be cost-effective, especially over time?
It’s taken over 100 years for the world to achieve a vehicle fleet size of nearly 1 billion vehicles. In the next couple of decades, however, we’ll double the size of the fleet, which means the future will require a lot more energy compared to today, especially as we add more gadgets and become ever more digitized.
Furthermore, in order to keep this growing fleet of cars and population happy, this vast amount of required energy will need to be relatively cheap, otherwise, society will regress rather than progress.
A wise person once said that the only constant in the universe is change, and the cycle of human life itself reinforces that notion quite eloquently. Similarly human history has been full of change, and that change has been led by innovation, particularly technological innovation. And like our past, our future will be full of amazing, revolutionary technological innovations. The world will move beyond the gasoline engine simply because other technologies are more efficient, and eventually they will be more cost-effective as well. Just as oil replaced wood, and cars replaced horses.
This is inevitable. There is no other way for the world to move forward.
Thus, today’s advanced gasoline engine vehicles and technologies are no match for hybrid cars and eventually, full electrification, at least in terms of potential, and chasing potential is what drives innovation and human existence, I dare say.
On the other hand, it’s obvious that gasoline engines still hold significant potential, and that potential should be tapped. The world can’t just wait for electrification.
It’s not about gasoline engines versus hybrid cars versus plug-in hybrid cars versus electric cars. Through the next few decades each of these technologies will have an evolving role to play. The goal should be to first be honest about that reality, instead of pretending that gasoline engines or plug-in vehicles are a perfect solution today and forever. Neither fits that billing.
In theory gasoline engines could make electrification irrelevant, but only temporarily and not very cost-effectively over time. However, the idea that electrification is ready to make ICE irrelevant is similarly as silly a notion today. What’s needed in the automotive world isn’t more ‘this versus that’ PR and hype, but simply a lot more intelligence on both sides of this counterproductive debate.