Monday, May 29, 2006

Alternative Engine Technologies

Everyone is talking about alternative energy, hybrid cars, and other technological developments that can help reduce gasoline consumption. What are the technologies available? Let's make a list. I'll provide some of them below. I hope that some of you will add some additional technologies I'm missing in the comments.

Biodiesel (probably not able to scale large enough to replace much gasoline)

Ethanol (definitely not able to scale large enough to replace much gasoline)

Hydrogen (too expensive to produce and store at the moment)

Hybrid gas/electric (currently in use; price premium makes it unclear if they're a good deal, but that will improve)

Quasiturbine engines (not available yet, but R&D is ongoing: http://www.quasiturbine.com/ )

Camless engines (also not available, but Honda and other companies hope to release models without cams within four or five years.)

Rotary/Wankel engines (only Mazda uses them, and mostly for power/weight ratio. They're very efficient overall, but the focus has not been fuel efficiency. That could change! Mazda does have RX-8 hybrid rotary/hydrogen cars in Japan, but don't expect to see this in widespread production any time soon.)

Pure electric (Recharges from the grid. GM tried this, but gave up on it. It may not be practical, although it is probably a bit cleaner to generate power on a large scale and distribute it.)

So, what am I missing? What engine technologies are on the horizon, offering fuel efficiency and power gains? I could have listed small engines with turbochargers, or turbo diesels, but since those are not really new technologies, I'll leave them out.

4 comments:

Urstoff said...

Methanol: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5369301
http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16466&ch=biztech

Though methanol isn't really a fuel in it's own right, just a non-volatile (and non-polluting) way of storing energy.

I really don't see the economic advantage of methanol over, say, just recharging an electric car on the grid, though. There might be automotive/engineering advantages, but such things are beyond my ken.

Mike Hammock said...

I'm embarassed to admit that I have never heard of methanol as an energy source (or energy storage medium). Thanks!

I might as well mention that there is work being done on getting lithium ion batteries in the next generation of hybrids (current hybrids use NimH batteries, due to weight). I like new energy storage technologies because they allow us to generate the energy in all sorts of ways.

In fifty years solar power may be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. We might all be using electric cars charged by solar power plants.

Mike Hammock said...

It's occurred to me that there are several alternative energy technologies, such as solar, wind, tidal, and other means of power generation. But for the purposes of this discussion I'm interested in automotive engines, not large-scale power generation facilities.

Another possible engine technology would be the stirling engine. There are other options too, such as small but turbocharged (or supercharged) engines. There used to be a reliability tradeoff with such engines, but Subaru seems to have licked that problem.

That reminds me, Subaru has a novel design for a hybrid vehicle that should be out in a couple years.

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