Is there a Future for the Internal Combustion Engine?

electric vehicles

As regulations regarding traditional automobiles and emissions become tighter around the world, the future of the internal combustion engine becomes more uncertain, which is a great concern to those involved in the lubricant business. However, many of the industry professionals believe that the sales of internal combustion engines will continue around the world, due to the increasing size of the market. As the number of individuals owning cars continues to grow, it would take the electric car market up to 25 years to supply everyone with an electric car.

Image result for car with internal combustion engine Image result for car with electric engine

An internal combustion engine is a heat engine in which the combustion of fuel occurs when mixed with an oxidizer (typically air). The lubrication system distributes oil to all the moving parts in order to reduce the friction between the various surfaces. Consequently, lubrication have a vital role in the expected life span of an automotive engine. Any failure of the lubricating system results in an engine overheating and seizing. Premier quality engine oil is formulated with a top quality base oil as well as advanced technology based additive package in order to protect the automotive engine. Internal combustion engine oils are graded based on the Society of Automotive (SAE) standard, which groups oils according to their viscosity.

EV Demand FOrecast
Source: jpmorgan estimate, https://www.jpmorgan.com/global/research/electric-vehicles

Since the internal combustion engine (ICE) will not disappear in the near future (see the figure above), the lubricant companies are encouraged to continue working to improve lubricants. The state of our environment mandates producing better, more environmentally friendly lubricants. Lubricants also need to be developed for vehicles built with ICE and electrification.

Hybrid electric vehicles combine the conventional internal combustion engine with the new electric propulsion system. The electric power train allows the hybrid vehicle achieve a higher level of fuel economy than the ICE engine.

Lubrication for an EV motor is very different from that for an ICE engine. An ICE engine requires oil to minimize any engine friction as well as transmission fluid. Engine oils rapidly degrade as they are contaminated by combustion gases and have to be replaced on a regular basis. Significant fluctuations in both power flows and high motor speeds occur within electric vehicles, requiring several different fluids. These fluids include an oil for the gear reducer (an electric vehicle’s transmission), an oil for the electric motor to improve cooling, and thermal management fluids for the battery to help support faster charger and quicker acceleration. These fluids have different requirements compared to those designed for ICE engines. Fluids for hybrid vehicles are subjected to high voltages and high temperatures. They must protect the coils and other key components from any possible corrosion while simultaneous preventing short circuits.

Market research indicates that the idea of one car fitting the requirements for every individual in every country is highly unlikely. Vehicles will continue to be modified to fit the environment and needs of the different countries. China is the current leader in terms of sales of electric vehicles, due to the government’s energy vehicle mandates and air quality issues within the country. Hybrid electric vehicles continue to gain popularity in European countries. However, they are not as popular in the United States, which does not have the same level of regulations. Geographic issues also affect the number of individuals buying electric cars in North America.

No matter of the future of the internal combustion engine, the future for lubricant companies looks bright. As new engines develop, so does the need for new lubricants.

The material is based on the article “The Internal Combustion Engine: A Future of Uncertainty?” (https://www.fuelsandlubes.com/fli-article/internal-combustion-engine-future-uncertainty/?lang=en).

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Dr. Aydar Akchurin
About Dr. Aydar Akchurin 42 Articles
Editor, PhD (Tribology), Senior Researcher at SKF, Houten, the Netherlands. Expertise in lubrication, friction, wear and contact mechanics.

2 Comments

  1. UK has announced that by 2050 all cars will be electric ones. India’s Niti Ayog has announced intentions to reach that by 2030. Sadly, neither will happen.

    As an automotive engineer from the 60’s I’m somewhat inured – and amused – by predictions of the imminent demise of the Internal Combustion Engine. With frightening images of cities like Beijing and New Delhi enveloped in smog there’s a desperate search for ‘villains’ and we are told the ‘problem’ will disappear once Internal Combustion Engines are ‘banned’ and the cars all run on electricity.

    The chorus has become even louder thanks to Social Media, the historic Paris Climate Agreement and the stand taken by Donald Trump with his fixation on coal. Countries are falling over each other to announce dates by when hydrocarbon fueled cars will be totally phased out and replaced with electric ones.

    At the risk of being labeled a retrograde, let me stick my neck out and state electric cars are not the solution; they won’t fly – literally and metaphorically.

    First, electric cars don’t eliminate greenhouse gases and pollution; they merely shift those from the tailpipe to the chimney. Unless of course the electricity generated all comes from ‘renewable’ sources like solar, wind, tides, hydroelectric or nuclear. Based on a 2017 report renewables contributed 23.9% of all electricity generated globally in 2017….and the most optimistic estimate in the same report puts the figure at 29.4% by 2023. In India, the installed power generation capacity of renewables, at 77 GW, constitutes about 22% of the total capacity as of April 2019 whereas the actual power generated from renewables constituted just 10% of the total in 2018-19, according to the CEA.

    What this fails to acknowledge is that the low hanging fruit has already been plucked and the figure could well plateau out at 30-31% in the next decade. That means nearly 70% of all primary energy will still be hydrocarbon derived. With falling oil prices growth and adoption of renewable energy will slow down even further. This could be further compounded by more realistic costing of renewable sources; for instance, solar panel farms require large tracts of land that has a market price rarely factored in.

    Second, while individual car makers are all focusing on developing their own prototypes, there is no standardization of the ‘fuel’. Just imagine if all petrol/diesel vehicles were designed to run only on their manufacturer supplied fuel and you had a multiplicity of manufacturer specific petrol stations! Sounds absurd, because we are all used to driving our cars of any make into any one and tanking up.

    No one’s working on standardizing the ‘fuel’ for electric cars – electricity! The type – AC or DC, the voltage (110V or 220V; single phase or 3 phase, 50 Hertz or 60), the connectors, the amperage which will determine the size of the cables and charging time…. and so on. (The batteries are all DC while the mains are AC; will the rectifier converting AC to DC be in the car or will the charging stations all supply DC?).

    Actually, a far more logical way forward would perhaps be to standardize the battery – a supersized version of say AA – with ‘battery stations’ where a driver goes in, has the existing battery removed and a new one plugged in quickly and easily, paying the difference between unused energy returned and fresh energy picked up. But that would require standardization of not just the battery packs and receptacles but for the entire electrical system. Not happening.

    Third, the design of an ultra-heavy-duty battery is far from settled. Lithium ion is favored by most, but Lithium is a scarce mineral, and if demand picks up substantially so will prices, throwing the economics out of gear. It doesn’t help that Chile, Argentina, Australia and China between them account for over 95% of worldwide reserves! Fuel cells have been talked about for over three decades and are nowhere close to commercialization. There’s now a growing buzz around graphene…

    Finally, the Internal Combustion Engine design has not remained static over the years. Major improvements and innovations have made the one under the bonnet (or trunk!) of your car is a far more efficient beast today than it was even 10 years ago.

    And with more stringent controls on fuel specifications by WWFC (World-wide Fuel Charter on Fuel – both diesel and gasoline) and the BS-VI standards the fuel efficiency and emissions today are continually evolving and will delay the predicted demise.

    Problems of greenhouse gases, pollution and traffic snarls are real and need to be tackled. Urgently. Geography specific ‘solutions’ will probably lie in combinations of cheap, efficient and reliable mass transportation, carpooling, increased production of energy from renewable sources like solar, wind, nuclear, better hydrocarbons like CNG, improvements in prime mover technologies, self-sufficient communities, working from home in networked environments …. and electric cars which will be a part of the ‘solution’, not all of it.

    Cars with Internal Combustion Engines will still be around for a long time!

    • Satish, I think you are right, the ICE is going to be around for a long time. I also believe, it wont disappear completely (niche areas likely to remain). I think companies are aware of the current limitations of the electric vehicles, thus the forecast given in the article shows that 80% of the cars will have ICE by 2030s.
      As you also mentioned, the limitation in the supply of Lithium is a concern in the coming period. China is one of the largest producers of Lithium, but it needs it for itself. You can also imagine that in many places in the world, where the electric grids are not developed well enough, electric cars cannot be an alternative to the ICE cars.
      But in a long run, I think and I actually hope that electric cars start to dominate to make our environment cleaner and lives better.

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