The emission regulations being set by the United States and echoed by the international market trends are seeking to bring about the demise of the combustion engine. Britain and France led the clean energy revolution by outlawing the sale of all gasoline and diesel-powered combustion engine vehicles by 2040. The Netherlands has ambitiously chosen to stop the sale of combustion vehicles by 2030. The European Union has announced measures that will phase in strict emission controls on cars and vans during the years of 2020-2030. China announced its desire to ban combustion engines by 2040. Over a dozen countries and counting are joining the trend.
Volkswagen is still recovering from the diesel gate scandal and the $2.8 billion fine that was imposed in April 2017 for tampering with emission controls. Volkswagen had programmed approximately 11 million turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engine vehicles to only produce the regulatory emissions in the lab. In real-world driving conditions, these vehicles were producing 40 times as much NOx gases.
Volkswagen was initially debating the purchase of a license to use Mercedes-Benz BluTec technology to clean up their emissions so they could pass the regulations. They decided to develop their own technology but failed to do so in time to meet standards. The diesel gate scandal revealed that many automakers were also cheating on emissions. Germany is banning the sale of combustion-engine-powered vehicles by 2030 to put the controversy behind the automakers.
Regression on Electric Vehicles
Ford had originally set out to sell its Ford Escape as an electric hybrid. However, by early 2012, the hybrid model was discontinued to introduce a more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly EcoBoost engine based upon direct injection technology. Direct injection is the competitive edge that auto manufacturers are developing in the vehicles to hold onto their more profitable gasoline engines while retaining EPA regulations.
A direct injection vehicle injects the fuel directly into the combustion chamber rather than mixing the fuel with air in the intake and sucking it into the combustion chamber on the downstroke of the pistons. This allows the automakers to avoid the pre detonation that is common in high-compression engines and enables manufacturers to use a leaner fuel mixture of 87-octane gasoline. The end result is excellent power, reliability, and lower emissions.
Hyundai recently received a $4.95 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue research on developing a homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) gasoline engine, an engine that theoretically would operate as efficiently as a diesel with cleaner emissions.
A technique used by diesel to clean up their soot black emissions was originally implemented in California by mandating EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) systems beginning in the 90’s. The EGR system sounds great on paper by addressing one facet of the problem but reduces engine performance. This is because engines like clean cool air that is more dense and rich in oxygen to promote combustion.
Rather than having to recirculate the exhaust back into the engine to combust all the byproducts that were improperly burned by a spark controlled engine, the HCCI would theoretically achieve full combustion solely from compression like a diesel engine. The 87-octane gasoline would burn much cleaner and thoroughly than diesel if HCCI could be achieved.
The new SkyActive-X technology developed by Mazda is the leading advancement into this field. SkyActive-X technology debuts in the 2019 Mazda 3. Mazda found a way to time the direct injection of fuel just perfectly to create the next best thing to an HCCI engine. It also features a supercharger that acts like and air pump to fine-tune the fuel/air mixture.
Mazda is a small car company that is famous for building eccentric engines like the rotary engine that made its RX-7 model legendary among performance enthusiasts. Mazda is planning to bring back their Wankel rotary engines in 2019 as a small secondary engine to recharge the battery of an electric vehicle for range extension. Mazda has led the way in developing the technology to extend the life of combustion engines until the global bans come into effect.
The Underlying Reason Why Automakers Keep Stalling
Automakers will lose a large share of profits (up to 50%) by competitively pricing electric vehicles to sell at combustion engine prices. The Lithium-ion batteries that power most electric vehicles today are expensive. Mass-production of Aluminum-ion batteries may prove to be the grand solution that automakers have been waiting for to bring down overhead in EV manufacturing. Nevertheless, environmental regulators are forcing automakers to begin developing the electric vehicle technologies even if they take a hit to their wallet and lose jobs. It is believed that 600,000 jobs will be lost in automotive manufacture if the German ban on combustion engines goes into effect in 2030 as announced. The electric parts will have to be produced and outsourced to other equipment manufacturers while the labor to build vehicles will simultaneously be reduced by 40%.