Friday, 28 July 2017

2040: End Date for Internal Combustion Engined Cars.

Well..... yes and no.

Much has been said over the past couple of days about how the abolition of petrol and deisel cars will leave only electric cars in the frame. A deliberate ploy to make the Conservative policy contentious and therefore another stick to beat them with.

Forgetting the French have made exactly the same promise. Forgetting that hybrid engined vehicles, which incorporate internal combustion engined elements will still be on sale. After all, we're not talking zero emissions vehicles. Yet.

So although vehicles powered soley by internal combustion engines will be outlawed, petrol and diesel engines will still be in cars for some time to come.  Okay maybe not diesel, because it's a crap fuel.

They have to be, because there is as yet no other power source that can deliver the range and flexibility of chemical reaction engines.

Right now the hybrid engine in Formula 1 are delivering close to 50% thermal efficiency, which in engineering terms is pretty bloody good. Soley electricaly-powered vehicles don't come anywhere close.

For instance, if we did go soley electric where does that electricity come from? Mainly fossil-fuelled power stations which are nowhere near close to being efficient. Not just the process from burning stuff, converting water to steam, turning the turbines. Yes that's inefficient, but also converting the electricity into a form that can be transported hundreds of miles. Every time that electricity goes through a transfopmer to step it up for transmission, or down to domestic voltages, some heat is lost in the process. That's why the transformers in your local substation are bathed in oil: to cool them down.

So, vast amounts of energy are wasted by converting fossil fuel to electricity. We'll just use renewables instead? Ah, but here the fickle nature of renewables rears it's head. We'll charge electric cars at night while we sleep, so they are ready to run in the morning. But the sun doesn't shine at night which discounts solar energy as a clean power source. Wind doesn't blow all the time, so what happens if the wind doesn't blow overnight and we can't supply the demand of all those electric cars suckling away at the national grid? Will drivers have to phone in work and take a day off?

No, we'll take a pragmatic view and have some sort of transitional arrangement rather than fall off a cliff in 2040. We'll allow hybrids and I'm sure will introduce legislation that drives manufacturers to ever more efficient combined power units a-la F1 until thermal efficiency is maximised to the limits of our technology.

Of course there could be an opening for hydrogen technology in all of this. Especially as after 2040 it will be ever more complicated and difficult to produce hybrids with the right qualities. Just ask Hondas F1 engine makers...

Hydrogen technology can be used to power fuel cell cars with zero emissions. Current internal combustion engines can also be modified to burn hydrogen if we wanted, although the cost and efficiency of producing hydrogen, packaging it in a way it can be transported and stored ready for transfer to vehicles is the big questionmark.

In any event, the sky is not falling. If car manufacturers can get F1 hybrid technology to work in road cars, it bodes well for the future.

Although the questionmark is still the electric part of the equation: batteries don't last forever. They wear out and the cost of replacing them in second-hand vehicles is still an unanswered question.

I have the feeling that the car market will eventually move to a lease-hire model, where you don't actually own the car, you just leae it for however long and then return it to the manufacturer. The car then get recycled. As batteries tend to last no longer than a decade, that would be the maximum amount of time before any new car gets crushed and recycled.

How green that model is compared to a petrol car that just needs regular maintenance for up to 200,000 miles and a couple of decades or more is another question that really needs asking. For instance my last car lasted for 180,000 miles and 18 years before I scrapped it, although had I the money it could have been repaired and still be on the road. It's just the cost was the same if not more than the market value of the car. The same goes for hybrids, it's just theat point comes rather quicker with cars that contain huge battery banks.

Is the push to electric actually an environmental one or a financial one? Are we being duped into paying more for something we don't need to pay more for?

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