R.I.P. I.C.E? Not quite yet

Hosted by the Advanced Propulsion Centre and Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council at the Royal Institution, experts in the field actively engaged in answering the question ‘is a world driving towards electrification digging the grave for the internal combustion engine?’

Attendees from Industry and Academia filled the famous lecture hall of the Royal Institution to hear thoughts on the key challenges that face the automotive sector over the next 30 years and understand the implications of them on the future of the internal combustion engine.

The discussion centred around three key points:

UK Economy

There was a clear agreement amongst the speakers that the internal combustion engine is a shining star of the UK automotive industry.

Ian Constance, CEO of Advanced Propulsion Centre, set the scene at the debate:

The internal combustion engine has been the staple of the last 100 years. It’s love, and loathed, by many but its flexibility and efficiency has enabled it to prosper.

He explained that the UK produces nearly 2.5 million engines, which is far more than the amount of vehicles manufactured in the UK. With this in mind, Ian cued up the debate by stating:

If the internal combustion engine is going to disappear we need to think about what we’re going to do next.

‘Engine manufacturing is worth £7 billion to the UK economy, which is something we don’t want to lose’ Neville Jackson, Chief Technology Officer at Ricardo, added to Ian’s comments as he gave attendees a view of the current landscape.

Air Quality

Minimising NOx and particulate emissions was widely recognised as the key challenge faced by the internal combustion engine as we look to meeting clean air legislation, particularly within major cities.

Neville Jackson presented startling facts that though “1,700 people die from car related incidents in the UK, 20 times more people die from air pollution” referencing the World Health Organisations estimates of 3.7 million premature deaths due to air quality per year.

Neville acknowledged that though air quality is improving, it is not improving as quickly as needed. Changing test criteria from the well understood NEDC testing standard towards real world driving conditions mean that the industry needs to re-evaluate the approaches taken to meeting the challenge and while ensuring vehicle emissions are continually reduced remains the priority we have to be certain that any solutions are cost effective, otherwise we run the risk of stopping consumers from updating their vehicles as soon as they might. This in turn reduces the impact of new emissions reduction technology and weakens the economic success of the sector in general.

Dr Doug Parr, Chief Scientist and Policy Director at Greenpeace, agreed that there needs to be serious considerations to the way we test our vehicles today. Figures showed that real world emissions of Euro 6 engines are between 2-14 times worse than current results suggest, demonstrating the need for the new test criteria to genuinely represent what the consumer uses the vehicle for.

It was also recognised that public opinion as well as legislation was likely to drive a faster rate of change ‘Due to public pressure, air pollution will become a social taboo in the same way smoking has’ added Adam Chase, Director of E4tech.

Electric Vehicles

All the speakers agreed that the electric vehicle will have a significant role to play in the future of  passenger cars, but that even here there will remain challenges, with Adam Chase and members of the audience actively discussing  long range passenger car journeys and the challenges of charging en-route .

Neville Jackson set the mark for when he believes EV’s will really stake their claim in the automotive industry, suggesting ‘2030 – 2040 will be the decade of the electric vehicle’. He followed this by questioning whether I.C.E will be fully replaced, ‘Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet; different sectors will require different solutions. Urban vehicles will take the electrification route, but what about HDV’s and off-highway equipment?’

Many other topics were covered during the lively debate including the potential for hydrogen to be a fuel of the future or whether it was more suited to support the consumer energy and heating sector, the potential for energy dense liquid fuels to be CO2 negative how quick we must act, what’s being done, amongst other interesting sides to the debate. A particular highlight of the day being a practical demonstration of the energy density challenge facing batteries with a battery the size of a shoe box still only delivering the real world driving range of less than half a pint of gasoline.

The debate was the first of the Future of Technologies series, with ‘Can we put the ‘Zero’ in EV’s?’ and Driving into the digital age’ taking place early 2017.