Long Live the Piston Engine - Autoline on Autoblog with John McElroy

Every auto show I go to in the world all claim they're the "greenest" of them all. Same with LA.
But as I go around the displays looking at all the hybrids and diesels and flex-fuel cars, it sure looks like the piston engine is going to be around for a long time to come.

Invented over 100 years ago, you would have thought something could have surpassed the internal combustion engine by now. But it just hasn't happened.

And thanks to electronics it keeps getting better all the time. Electronic valves and smarter combustion control is going to raise efficiency dramatically. It offers up the promise of eliminating emissions right in the chamber rather than capturing them with expensive traps, filters and catalysts.

In fact, it's amazing enough how clean the piston engine is. The ones built to California's PZEV (partial zero emission vehicle) standard are so clean that when driving around in the LA basin, the air going in the engine is actually dirtier than the exhaust coming out the tailpipe. Want to clean up the air? Then get in your PZEV car and start driving around.

In fact, the Air Resources Board people tell me these cars are so clean that if someone wanted to commit suicide by parking their PZEV car in the garage, closing the door, and letting the engine run, they would not die. They might get a headache, but they'd live to tell the story.

Of course, PZEV cars don't do anything to reduce CO2 emissions, but all you have to do is change the fuel. Turns out that the piston engine runs just fine on hydrogen. In fact, if you do it right, an ICE can run more efficiently on hydrogen that it will on gasoline, and with zero emissions. Want to get filthy rich? Just figure out how to build an inexpensive fuel tank that can hold hydrogen.

And of course a piston engine runs just fine on bio-fuel, natural gas, propane or any number of fuels that we may want to turn to.

It even fits perfectly into the "electrification" of the automobile, that is, where you get rid of all the pumps and hydraulics in the brakes, steering and chassis, and go purely electric. In this application, all the engine has to do is run a generator to recharge the batteries. Imagine how much cost you can design out of an engine if all it has to do is purr along at less than 2000 rpm.

The point is, nothing has yet surpassed the ICE and it keeps getting better all the time. That's why it's going to be around a lot longer than many people realize. I've always joked that when we really do find a UFO in Roswell and the scientists take it apart and peer inside, they're going to find a V8 in there. It might be running on dilithium crystals, but it'll be a V8.


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