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The end of the internal combustion engine

The end of the internal combustion engine thumbnail

The adoption of the internal combustion engine, a revolutionary invention that took the power of the steam locomotive and made it more compact and convenient, saw horse-drawn carriages moved from the streets to the history books within 15 years. Enormous fortunes were made, everyday life was transformed and cityscapes were reimagined.

Now, almost a century on from the first Model T rolling off Henry Ford’s innovative assembly line, the race is on to find an alternative power source to combat the global emissions crisis – the unforeseen legacy of the internal combustion engine and a testament to the ubiquitousness of the technology.

The world has changed dramatically over the last hundred years and will continue to do so.

In 1913, the world’s population was around 1.8 billion. Today it stands at 7.6 billion. By 2050, it is expected to surpass 9 billion and the International Energy Agency has estimated the number of cars will double from the current figure of one 1 billion. The UN expects the global population to exceed 11 billion by the end of the century.

Rising numbers of people means rising demands for energy, which, unless something dramatically changes, will ensure the world misses its target to limit the global temperature rise to two degrees celsius.

With the transport sector accounting for more than a quarter of total world energy use, many governments are turning their attention to mitigating vehicle emissions. The European Union has set a 2050 target of reducing emissions from the transport sector by 95 per cent. A number of countries, including Britain, China and France, have announced plans to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel engines within the next few decades. India wants all its vehicles to be electric by 2030.

Paul Ekins, professor of resources and environment policy at UCL and co-director of the UK Energy Research Centre, told The National that unlike other carbon-heavy industries, such as the building sector, the hyper-competitive automobile industry has willingly committed in recent years to finding an alternative, low-carbon model.

“The mood music was changing and they couldn’t afford to allow things to happen without them. They would rather be inside the tent influencing the direction than outside the tent and trying to knock it down,” said Prof Ekins.

He is convinced this move away from the internal combustion engine has been driven largely by climate change, followed by more awareness of local air pollution issues and the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

Emirati men check a vehicle manufactured by Electric carmaker Tesla during a ceremony in Dubai, on February 13, 2017. AFP
Emirati men check a vehicle manufactured by Electric carmaker Tesla during a ceremony in Dubai, on February 13, 2017. AFP

He said: “I think the thing that has changed above all is that the narrative around low carbon technology has changed. If you go back to the Copenhagen conference in 2009, all the talk was about burdens and cost sharing and who was going to do it… Well, politics doesn’t deal well with that kind of narrative. In Paris [in 2016], all the talk was about opportunity: ‘we have new technologies’, ‘we have innovation’, ‘this is going to be one of the defining areas of competitive advantage in the future’.

“This is something that was started by climate change more than anything else and I think that it was pushed by the perception of technological opportunity and it’s now effectively unstoppable.”

The challenge of finding low or zero emissions energy for vehicles that can still deliver speed, distance, comfort and status is a tall order, but is something the industry has realised it must do to futureproof themselves if they want to maintain market share.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, electric vehicles powered by batteries almost became the dominant technology, but fell out of favour because of the impracticality of how often they needed to be recharged. Research into batteries never stopped, but only in recent years has the technology seemed viable for automobiles.

This comes at a time when the general appeal of an electric vehicle has increased, Dr Anna Bonne, the transport lead at the UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology, explained.

“The image of the EV (electric vehicle) has changed from the tiny short-range commuter car to a luxury vehicle. Tesla has made the electric vehicle market sexier by designing one you would actually like to drive. Audi, Porsche, JLR and Aston Martin have all announced that they will be producing electric vehicles soon,” she said.

The other challenge facing the increased adoption of electric vehicles is where the energy powering the batteries will come from.

In the UK alone, with a population of 65.6 million, it is predicted that demand will grow from the current 336 terawatt hours a year by about 20 per cent over the next 20 years. In 2050, demand is on course to rise to 520 TWh/year.

“The main challenge from the climate change point of view is to get low carbon electricity because at the moment electric cars emit just as much carbon as ICEs (internal combustion engines), it’s just emitted at the power station and not from the car,” said Prof Ekins.

Speaking at last year’s Future of Energy Summit, Spencer Dale, the BP group’s chief economist, and Thomas D Smith, BP’s global oil market economist, explained: “The precise reduction in CO2 emissions associated with the growth of EVs depends, of course, on the fuels used to produce the electricity that powers them.

An aerial view of the brine pools and processing areas of the Rockwood lithium plant on the Atacama salt flat, the largest lithium deposit currently in production, in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. REUTERS
An aerial view of the brine pools and processing areas of the Rockwood lithium plant on the Atacama salt flat, the largest lithium deposit currently in production, in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. REUTERS

“Despite what my children seem to think – and, indeed, what some “zero emission” EV regulation seems to imply – electricity doesn’t grow in walls.

“And in countries or regions in which the power sector is heavily reliant on coal, the reductions in carbon emissions associated with switching to an EV may be minimal or even worse: it is tantamount to switching from an oil-fuelled car to a coal-powered one.”

There are a number of solutions to this problem, such as biofuels and one leading contender is nuclear energy.

Speaking at a recent event, Harry Holt, president of Rolls-Royce Nuclear, said that to keep up with demand, low-carbon power generation will need to increase threefold. Last year, his company produced 150 TWh of low carbon energy. By 2030, they are aiming to produce 350 TWh and by 2040 that will rise to 425 TWh.

“What that means as a challenge to the industry is we’re going to need to install about 95, just short of 100, gigawatts of electricity generating capacity by 2035, which is effectively replacing the entirety of what we’ve got and a little bit more on top of that”.

He believes that nuclear will need to provide around 28 per cent of the installed energy capacity in 2050. To do this, Rolls-Royce Nuclear are investing in small-scale nuclear reactors.

“We believe that these small modular reactors are going to have a very high load factor, a very high rate of utilisation. We believe they are quicker and easier to build and they therefore significantly reduce the financing burden and ultimately provide competitive electricity into the market,” said Mr Holt.

The other environmental factor to be considered with widespread battery adoption is a social-environment issue. The resources used in batteries are incredibly valuable.

Tesla plans to sell 500,000 electric cars a year. Using current technology, the company would need roughly two-thirds of the world’s annual lithium production for their batteries. Supplies of other minerals like cobalt could also come under pressure.



Although this means they are unlikely to be thrown away and therefore the risk of them ending up in rivers or landfills is low, it does mean the areas of the world where lithium is mined will be under pressure. Areas such as Bolivia, who do not have a good labour history and have had issues with child labour. These minerals will need to be mined in a socially and morally acceptable way.

Despite the number of challenges, as there was with the development of the internal combustion engine, large sums of money are there to be made.

As highlighted in the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy, analysis for the UK Committee on Climate Change estimated that the low carbon economy has the potential to grow 11 per cent per year between 2015 and 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy. Over £2.5 billion will be invested by the UK government between 2015 to 2021. This forms part of the largest increase in public spending on UK science, research and innovation in almost 40 years.

the national

28 Comments on "The end of the internal combustion engine"

  1. MASTERMIND on Mon, 8th Jan 2018 6:47 pm 

    EV’S are shit and only around 1/3 of all car owners in America own a garage to charge. Therefore it will never work. Its just a fad being pushed by the media.

  2. Allan on Mon, 8th Jan 2018 8:23 pm 

    did governments pay anybody for switching from horses to cars, trucks and tractors?

    here’s what happens without subsidies, even though electric power is 5x cheaper:

  3. Paul on Mon, 8th Jan 2018 9:25 pm 

    The US is currently helping businesses acquire lithium in Afghanistan and it doesn’t care too much about pesky child labor issues.

  4. Go Speed Racer on Mon, 8th Jan 2018 9:38 pm 

    Shouldn’t be long before the world population will be 28 Billion. We’ll have to drill for
    lots of oil and cut down enough trees. So they
    can all have 3 car garage, Ford F-350,
    and riding lawn mower.

  5. Cloggie on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 12:38 am 

    EVs are the next big thing in transportation. It is still open if they are going to be powered by batteries (western strategy) or by fuel cells (Japan).

    I bet 60-40 on Japan.

    But autonomous renewable powered EVs are going to be the next big thing:

    Think about it: a world without noisy cars, streets without endless amounts of car parked and a world without traffic jams because autonomous car sharing will be obligatory (energy saving).

    And Norway will bite the bullet first.

    And countries/areas like Britain, Holland, Japan, California following soon.

  6. MASTERMIND on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 2:09 am 


    Your sources are not credible…And you have no comment section because you are an ignorant bigot. And NO EV’S create a profit…They are a fad for idiots like you. Tech faggots. They will never catch on because not enough people even have garages to charge them.

  7. Davy on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 4:45 am 

    Techno optimism gone awry is what autonomous transport represents. Unneeded hyper complexity combining with very high cost. Likely only a niche player considering all the other expensive efforts civilization must tackle. We don’t need it and it is not vital. AI EV’s likely can be done but not as a solution but as another one of man technical titillations that will work in very small niche applications. They will likely be unreliable and expensive to maintain which is just what we don’t need these days. EV’s are bad enough on cost and energy efficiency. As a new industry to produce millions of new vehicles is a huge undertaking. One the infrastructure side of the equation yet another huge ramp up needed. We are talking trillions of dollars. There are limits to how much improvements we can make with batteries with cost and performance. Economies of scale will help some but the scale of ramping up this kind of macro investments are huge. This appears to be all one big fantasy that represents human desperation only able to manifest itself as more techno activity parading as solutions. This likely will not scale as intended yielding just more malinvestment in a world already full to the brim of bad debt. It is likely EV’s will become a viable option to replace some internal combustion transport but a complete replacement looks highly unlikely.

    If one considers we are in a dangerously unstable socioeconomic situation with multiple converging systematic dangers then one sees time is also a factor in the development of renewables and EV’s. If we had unlimited time maybe we could prefect these technologies with the right behavior and population sizes. That is not the case now. We are trying to force a round block into a square hole. Man is already fossil fuel structured with huge sunk costs. Renewables cannot compete on energy density and that is what we need today. In a different world maybe less energy density would work but today we are going the wrong direction with needs going the other direction. Man is in overshoot and at his limits on every plane of his existence and he wants to build a new techno palace

    Thinking we can double down on more of what got us here is a very dangerous policy when the alternative might be more resources for adaptation and mitigation with a move towards engineered simplicity with localism, seasonality, and intermittency. Maybe it is too late and it does not matter which road we take but I am of the opinion when you are facing failure “less” and “no” become very important attitudes. Renewables have a place in some kind of mitigation and adaptation strategy but the versions fake greens and techno optimist put forward are dangerously open ended. They require continued increases in complexity and growth combining for more development not less. It will likely be attempted because that is our nature and fighting our techno nature may be futile but I am sounding a warning of likely failure. We have been on a long and large linear techno joy ride on a finite planet. Limits will likely end it all but in the mean time I guess all this techno hubris is the only hope we have left. People are not going to buy into “less” and “no”. The only thing that can be sold these days is “MOAR”. Have at children because that is what children want.

  8. Antius on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 5:40 am 

    The internal combustion engine has a long future ahead of it, but is more likely to be used as part of a hybrid system beyond 2020. It has over an order of magnitude greater power density and its fuel over an order of magnitude better energy density than the best competing battery system.

    The biggest problem with a pure battery electric road vehicle is the poor ‘Energy Stored on Energy Invested’ (ESOI) of the battery system over its lifetime. This is because the battery must be sized to provide a 500km range, but for the vast majority of trips, this capability will never be used. Batteries have a lot of embodied energy, so this makes them relatively expensive to buy. This explains why Musk’s electric vehicle sales cannot earn him a profit, even with subsidies. The way to achieve a low levelised cost of storage on a deep cycle battery is to regularly use all of its potential.

    Page 28 of the reference below provides information on the average distance of car trips in the UK. I would imagine that the figures are similar for most other European countries. Maybe a bit more in the US.

    Some 56% of car trips have distance <5miles. Some 94% have distance <25miles (40km).

    If we produce a plug-in electric hybrid with a battery only range of say 50km and engineer it such that the engine starts at 80% battery depletion, we could cut fuel use by about 75% without any real advancement in engine technology. Now consider that diesel engines are more efficient when driving at 50+ mph on motorways than they are on smaller roads. The actual drop in year on year emissions could be as high as 80%.

    Other advancements could improve things even further. Look under the bonnet of a car in 2050, and the ICE you see is likely to be a free-piston internal combustion engine. These are smaller, lighter, have better power density and better efficiency than the ICE of today. It is likely to be much cheaper than a fuel cell thanks to its much greater power density. Toyota reported efficiency of 42% in a test version in 2013. That compares to about 20% for an ICE under real driving conditions. What's more, when charging the battery we can run the engine at optimum speed. So using a hybrid with a free-piston ICE could cut emissions by 90%.

    Now let's think about alternative fuel. If the engine burns methanol produced from biomass/fossil fuel upgrading using electrolytic hydrogen, the CO2 emissions per unit heat would be about 40% of regular gasoline. Adding that to the 90% reduction already achieved, yields a 96% reduction in CO2 emissions per km.

    You can achieve this at a much lower cost than a pure BEV. Cars like this could be built today at a cost that people could afford.

  9. Davy on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 6:03 am 

    You have some great ideas as usual Antius. Great points that should be more mainstream.

  10. Antius on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 6:44 am 

    “You have some great ideas as usual Antius. Great points that should be more mainstream.”

    Thanks. It is too bad that Elon Musk didn’t invest his billions in something like this. He could have teamed up with Toyota or GM and actually developed something a little less purist and a lot more practical. But that wouldn’t have caught the headlines or appealed to idealism of Greenish, Marxist politicians in markets like the EU. So he poured his money into an idealistic dream.

    As it is, he is destined to go broke, taking much of the world’s hope of low emission vehicles with him. Someone else will develop the hybrid, probably the Japanese.

  11. deadly on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 10:06 am 

    Farmers have pickup trucks, three and four of them, they have combines, tractors, self-propelled spraying equipment.

    Plenty of internal combustion engines on farms and that probably won’t change at all until there is no more oil.

    Fairbanks-Morse makes larger internal combustion engines and there is no doubt they will continue the manufacture of those large horsepower engines.

    Power plants are here to stay.

    Renewables like wind and solar will die on the vine, they don’t supply the power needed and never will.

    Internal combustion does all of the work. Oil and coal provide the energy. They can lift the barge and tote the bale.

    EVs in large metropolitan areas should take over.

  12. Duncan Idaho on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 10:44 am 

    Renewable energy accounted for 12.2 % of total primary energy consumption[3] and 14.94 % of the domestically produced electricity in the United States.

    Of that 14.94% of total production, Wind (20.8%) and Solar (5.8%). That comes to a grand total of just under 4% of total energy production.

    Soooo… If you wished to produce 100% of energy from wind and solar, you would have to multiply that by 25. Well, perhaps 22 since 10% is produced by hydro. But if 100% of that or 90% of the total goes down at night because of no wind, and you wished to draw that from a neighboring grid, then that would mean they would have to multiply their current wind and solar production by 44 times.

    Well, actually it would be a lot more than that because we are talking about wind only here, as there would be no solar at night. So wind only would have to be multiplied by 50 or 60 times. Or about 2,000% of current wind production. You hope the wind would be blowing really hard in that neighboring grid. Otherwise…?

    Dream on!


  13. Jef on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 10:52 am 

    Was driving behind a guy in a prius plug-in who had this heavy black cable dragging behind it whipping all around. I passed him on the right to get into the off ramp lane and there in the plug outlet is the blue handled plug from a park and charge system.

  14. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 10:59 am 

    Well Jef,
    That’s probly why pornographers should stay illegal.

    Maybe Prius should be illegal too.
    Sooooo ugly, uglier than an AMC Pacer.

  15. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 11:12 am 

    Oh Jesus Christ.
    There is no way to fix posts on this system.

    There is only one thing I typed,
    and I type it very very precisely.

    I typed “Probly that’s why p o t should stay illegal”.
    Entirely without any visual indication and
    no way for me to correct, the fucking iPhone,
    Or this fucking Peak Oil website,
    Converts my sentence to
    “Probly that’s why pornographers should stay illegal”.
    Why did fucking Apple fuck with my sentence?
    None of their fucking business. Piece of shit
    products we are forced to buy even if we detest
    and don’t want it.

    No way to control it, the software authors are
    all 100% psychopaths and don’t give one fuck
    If anything they wrote even works.

    Indeed software authors thrill to embed bugs
    they do it on purpose to piss off the world and
    fuck their employers out of extra paychecks.
    Pornographers my ass, I typed in pot.

    Legalized pot should be made illegal.
    Oh, then the software authors couldn’t get out
    of bed in the morning. Boo hoo hoo.

    Hopefully the French will fine Apple a few billion
    bux for slowing down iPhones. They deserve to
    be fined $ 89 Billion dollars, for having the shittiest
    touch keyboard on the entire planet.

  16. davy on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 11:41 am 

    “Probly that’s why pornographers should stay illegal”.

    speeder, illegal sounds more fun so maybe it was a paranormal thing. It happened because you wanted it to happen. Your mind influenced the iphone to say that.

  17. MASTERMIND on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 1:28 pm 

    Simple really….when the World Economy Collapses everything shuts down…the end….The collapse will be absolutely horrible..There is no collapse or horror movie ever produced that has even come close to imagining what the collapse of BAU might look like. I’m talking about every corporation and every social program going bankrupt at once.I’m talking about people eating people. I’m talking about the Worst Catastrophe to ever happen in the history of mankind. Nothing has ever, or will ever come close.

  18. JH Wyoming on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 1:49 pm 

    “With the transport sector accounting for more than a quarter of total world energy use…”

    A lot of people think switching to EV’s solves our energy problems (because it’s the most visible use of energy in their lives), but really it’s only 1/4 of the energy usage.

  19. JH Wyoming on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 1:54 pm 

    “Was driving behind a guy in a prius plug-in who had this heavy black cable dragging behind it whipping all around. I passed him on the right to get into the off ramp lane and there in the plug outlet is the blue handled plug from a park and charge system.”

    I was at a gas station the other day and one of the cashiers said to the other, “Some guy just tried to drive off with the pump handle still on his car.” She meant in the fill in pipe, but anyway, the point is people have bad memories and make mistakes.

  20. JH Wyoming on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 1:56 pm 

    “If you wished to produce 100% of energy from wind and solar, you would have to multiply that by 25.”

    At current rates of installation that’s about 12 years till 100%. What’s wrong with that?

  21. Davy on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 2:08 pm 

    At current rates of installation that’s about 12 years till 100%. What’s wrong with that?

    Like kids say these days “way what”?

  22. Sys1 on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 3:28 pm 

    EVs filled with coal plants are basically coal cars.
    Meaning all of this article is BS just like Cloggie comments we are used to read (not me any more).

    “The end of the internal combustion engine”
    Yeah, whatever.
    You should have written
    “The end of industrial civilisation” and it would have been correct.

    Everything is falling appart, even the fuck’n air we breathe and all the shit you have to bring is another capitalist techno dream of more and more consumption. Just for money. The ultimate horizon of our sick society.
    EVs are worse than gazoline cars on every points. limited lithium reserves, limited refilled cycles, energy density, time of charge, electric plants feeded with natural gaz at best, coal in worst case.
    In Mad Max documentary, the hero drives a gazoline car or a horse, EVs is the epsilon of our world equation.
    Tired of all this shit, get back to the real world.

  23. Pat on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 8:14 pm 

    the peakoil is back and its real. the ice or electric the natural forces is taking ground, effects. 2008 is back and the oil is on rocket to moon. prepare..

  24. antaris on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 9:59 pm 

    Jet, I can’t say for sure a Prius won’t, but my Mitsubishi Imieb will not do anything if plugged in. No way can you drive off with the plug cord attached.

  25. dave thompson on Tue, 9th Jan 2018 10:49 pm 

    “The end of the internal combustion engine” total BS.

  26. Makati1 on Wed, 10th Jan 2018 12:21 am 

    Dave, I totally agree. More fairy tales from the techie dreamers. Not a bit of thought went into the headline unless it was how to mislead the ignorant.

  27. Antius on Wed, 10th Jan 2018 10:22 am 

    Previously I suggested that we might use renewable energy in isolated areas to upgrade otherwise stranded fossil fuel resources into methanol. We would do this by partially burning coal to carbon monoxide and reacting it with hydrogen produced by electrolysis. I carried out a few calculations of how much this would cost.

    1. Coal is pure carbon;
    2. Electrolysis is 70% efficient;
    3. Wind electricity costs $0.1/kWh;
    4. The capital and operating cost of the methanol plant adds $0.01/MJ to total costs. This is in line with conventional refinery costs – 1MJ of gasoline costs 1.66cents, 1MJ of crude costs 0.8cents at $50/bl.
    1mol of methanol (32g) requires 1mol of C (12g) and 2mol H2 (4g).
    To produce 1kg of methanol (22MJ) we would need 0.375kg of coal and 0.125kg hydrogen.
    1k of coal costs about $0.3 at the mine head. Since we can build our methanol plant close to the mine that is the figure I am going to use.
    1kg of hydrogen contains 142MJ of chemical energy, so 0.125kg H2 contains 17.75MJ. At 70% electrolysis efficiency, the total electrical energy needed to produce this is 25.4MJ (7.04kWh). Since coal contains about 30MJ per kg, about half of the energy content of the methanol would come from renewable energy.

    Wind energy contracts for the UK settled on a cost £120/MWh until recently, but have since declined to £60/MWh. There is about $1.33 to the pound, so I will conservatively assume that 1MWh of wind energy costs me $100. I am going to assume that solar power (close to the power plant) costs about the same. So electricity will cost $0.1/kWh.

    The total energy cost of producing 1kg of methanol is therefore: 0.375×0.3 + 7.04×0.1 = $0.817

    1kg of methanol contains 22MJ. I am going to assume that plant capital and operating costs add 1 cent per MJ to the cost of producing methanol. Total cost = $0.22+$0.817 = $1.09/Kg.
    Breakdown of costs: Electricity (64.6%); Coal (10.3%); Plant (capital & operations) (20.2%).

    1kg of methanol contains 22MJ. So this works out at 4.95 cents per MJ.

    How does that compare to gasoline? 1gallon of gasoline costs about $2 at the refinery gate, and contains 33.41kWh, or 120.3MJ. That works out at 1.66 cents per MJ. So gasoline is presently only one third of the cost of our upgraded coal methanol per MJ.

    On the plus side, methanol burned in a direct methanol fuel cell may be twice as efficient as an ordinary ICE engine across an average driving cycle. So methanol fuel costs will be about 50% greater at recent oil prices $50/bl. Higher oil (and gas prices) will also increase the cost of steel and all other costs associated with building the renewable energy price. So I would estimate that gasoline and coal/renewable methanol will break even at an oil price of $100/bl.

    For electricity production the news is less good. At a cost of 4.95 cents per MJ, a 60% efficient gas turbine will have fuel cost of 8.25 cents per MJ electric power, or $0.297/kWh. UK wholesale natural gas prices are £0.5/therm or £0.017/kWh ($0.023/kWh). So coal derived methanol would be about 3.5 times more expensive than natural gas as an electricity fuel at present prices. In the US, the disparity would be even greater.

  28. goerge on Wed, 10th Jan 2018 11:24 am 

    cough entropy cough BJ

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