"The future of the internal combustion engine is bright and clear; I don't think that could be any more obvious to all of us." Those are the words of Byron Bunker, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's heavy-duty on-road center – a division of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality.
During a panel discussion on the future role of internal combustion engines (ICEs) at the U.S. Department of Energy's 2011 Directions in Engine-Efficiency and Emissions Research Conference in Detroit, MI, Bunker made it known that he firmly believes ICEs will power nearly all of the vehicles – not just heavy-duty ones – well into the future:
Bunker says the IC engines of tomorrow need to become more accepting to fuel variation, should trade elastic power delivery for peak efficiency, must be produced in volume to control costs and should include sophisticated controllers and advanced sensor technologies.When you look at our actual analysis and you look to our projections for the future, 95 percent or more of the vehicles and 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.
Looking beyond 2050, Bunker – along with several other industry experts who spoke at the recent conference in Detroit – agreed that alternative technologies (i.e. battery, hydrogen fuel cell and advanced biofuels) could displace IC engines as the dominant source of motivation for vehicles. Today's focus, though, they say, should be on extracting every last bit of efficiency from conventional gas- and diesel-burning engines.