• Roger Atkins

Suck, Squeeze, Bang & Blow!


Intake (Suck), Compression (Squeeze), Combustion (Bang), and Exhaust (Blow).

So that's where we still are.

After all this time.

After all we know...

Exactly where Nikolaus Otto and Karl Benz were in the late 1800's with the four-stroke, internal combustion engine. Before anyone shoots me down the term exactly needs some elaboration of course...

The internal combustion process in modern cars is something Herr Otto & Herr Benz would surely still recognise as 'theirs'...but we have come a long way from that moment in regard to a raft of efficiencies and refinements that now make up modern engines.

So why are we still where we are?

Much of it is about this simple singular fact...

An internal combustion engine is fed on a diet of energy dense fossil fuel - but the swanky and much dinkier motor propelling the electric vehicle has to make do with a much more meagre offer.

That battery - jam packed full of excitable electrons is however no match for the power packed but stinky fuel tank hidden shamefully out of sight on each and every car, bus, and truck on the planet.

Whilst the EV looks far more neat and tidy under the skin than all the fiddly internal combustion engine bits - belts, chains, pistons, lubricants, oils etc - the muscle pack powering up the suck, squeeze, bang, blow process is...I'm slightly reticent to admit - undeniably superior.

That said 'Old Faithful' is sadly rather profligate with that impressive energy advantage. Amongst many other relatively ineffiecent things, the heat it generates is mostly squandered - and like an irresponsible dog walker it leaves a very unpleasant mess trailing behind it. Not so the EV of course - well not the messy bit anyway...

However, improvements are rapidly in process and many of these inefficiencies are being tackled. In the meantime, the superior energy density proposition remains the traditional Auto Industry's Ace card.

As a consequence of this fact, the technology roadmap you see rolled out time and again by CTO's and various other Gurus sees the ICE proposition prevailing for many decades to come...begrudgingly blending electrification in with it all along the way - much like a policy on immigration quotas perhaps.

Happy to see a bit of it - but not too much to spoil the 'status quo'

So here's a thought...Could it be that such roadmaps are predicated on the potentially false premise that we will always need a fuel tank capable of taking us on a 500 mile journey, and that vehicle weight will continue to match the expansion of many western waistlines, and that batteries are almost as good as they'll ever get?

I see a convergence of things on the close horizon such as greater energy density from a variety of WIP battery chemistries, an appropriate use of hydrogen - likewise with super-caps, a critical shift in the re-fuelling proposition including wireless charging, a different mix of urban operating vehicles, substantial weight reduction from vehicles using new materials, and design and build for relatively low speed urban operation and duty cycle - all of which then present a compelling case for NICE to replace the ICE rather more quickly than many are suggesting...

Photo: Momentum Dynamics Wireless Charging / Yamaha MOTIV.e

Without a doubt, the key driver to enable/accelerate this convergence is the increasingly compelling case for cleaner urban air. Mitigation of Man-made accelerated climate change has some powerful advocates too - The Pope & President Obama to name but two...

We all know that a greater % of people live in 'closed environments' than ever before in human history - squashed together cheek by jowl is challenging enough - without the prospect of being slowly poisoned at the same time!

So the answer to the question 'when will EV's prevail over ICE vehicles?' depends on who you ask.

Vested interest in 'Old Auto' is inevitably and understandably of a longer term view - but 'New Auto' has some of the most impressive hearts and minds on the planet fighting for it - and they see the Tipping Point popping up much sooner than later...

Photo: Gordon Murray

In case you're wondering...

I felt compelled to pen this piece after reading a Q&A with a very well respected industry veteran on future powertrain technology.

For sure his technical grasp is far superior to anything I will ever possess - but I felt very frustrated and disappointed at the prospect of variations on a well worn theme as outlined. In fact, the automakers are lobbying the legislators harder than ever to slow down the pace of development/improvements - as they see them as expensive and challenging...

I say, if suck, squeeze, bang and blow is still the best we can do folks - it's a good job we weren't relying on an internal combustion engine to shoot for the Moon and beyond!


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