We often hear remarks like, "The internal combustion engine (ICE) is a 100-year-old technology, and it's time for it to be retired." I'd say that's equivalent to saying, "Radio technology is 100 years old, and it's time for wireless devices to be retired." On the contrary, I believe we're at the beginning of the Second ICE Age.
There are two main factors driving ICE progress. First, advances in materials are allowing the fundamental discriminators of performance (weight, operating temperatures and pressures, friction, etc.) to advance. This is the most consistent trend through the history of energy technology. Advances in materials always enable advances in energy performance. Just as better composites led to better wind turbines in the 20th century, better materials are leading to better ICEs in the 21st century.
The second main advancement is in real-time controls. Computer power has become very cheap, compact and reliable; we can now control the combustion process in ways that were not possible just a decade ago. Control of ignition, boost, valve action, fuel delivery and other parameters can now be done with great precision over the complete vehicle operating range. Thermoelectric bottoming cycles, vehicle pre-conditioning, regenerative braking, and other operational refinements are all enabled by control technology. In addition to improvement in performance and efficiency, control technology enables the phased introduction of non-petroleum liquid fuels. There are many more improvements to come as ICEs become the central building block around which computerized and electrified drive train systems are developed.
Combining these factors, I expect a 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in fuel consumption and carbon emissions from ICE-powered passenger cars and trucks over the next decade. The world's vehicle manufacturers are all working towards these goals, and we are seeing many business plans from ICE entrepreneurs. This is the start of the Second ICE age.
Maurice Gunderson is the Senior Partner in the Energy and Materials Division at CMEA Ventures. He has a life-long passion for anything with moving parts, especially engines. He sits on the boards of Amerigon, Inc./BSST, CFX Battery, Inc., NuScale Power, Inc., Onami, Scion Sprays and Superprotonic.