If you’re about to buy a car, then I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the huge amount of contradictory information. Believe some quarters of the press and you’d think that the internal combustion engine is dead and we’ll all be banned from going anywhere near a city in anything other than a pure electric vehicle (EV).
I have read various estimates and, despite there being little in the way of a charging infrastructure, some suggest that we will all be driving EVs within a decade.
Having been lucky enough to spend some time in governmental office and even longer in business, I’ve learned that you really need to look beyond the hyperbole to find the reality.
Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve been actively involved with various investments in technology companies. As chairman of Camcon, we have developed and pioneered innovations in the oil, gas and medical sectors. Here’s my view: the petrol engine is far from dead.
Given the fact that I’ve just mentioned the oil industry, you probably won’t be at all surprised to hear this. “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” I hear you cry.
But as a relatively young company we have chosen this area because of the opportunity. If we are going to address climate change we need to invest in the technologies that are most likely to make a difference; within that calculation there needs to be an element of probability of success, while making the most of our resources. Critically, we’re realists, so let’s look at the numbers.
The market for internal combustion engines is still growing, with global vehicle volumes predicted to rise to 115 million by the middle of the next decade – up from 94 million last year. What’s more, even the most optimistic of automotive analyst predicts that only one in three cars on the road will be fully electric by 2040.
The future for the vast majority of cars is the “electrified” powertrain: an internal combustion engine combined with an electric motor and a battery system – what is commonly known as a hybrid. There is a lot of confusion as to what we mean when we talk about EVs. In the mid-term, a highly optimised internal combustion engine allied to increasingly powerful electric motors and more efficient batteries is the optimal solution. As technology develops, the electric part of that combination will do more and more of the work, but we are nowhere near the point of making the internal combustion engine redundant.
Don’t believe me? Consider this. Right now, there is a UK network of around 8,500 petrol stations able to fill up your car in minutes. Even if mass electric car take-up outstrips forecasts – and we’re talking solely battery-powered vehicles – there are still a lot of unknowns around how many power stations will be required to meet charging demand and, outside of Government’s £400 million Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund, who will pay for the infrastructure.
Any lost tax revenue at the pumps also needs to be replaced (the Treasury takes about 60 per cent tax on every litre of petrol sold). The International Energy Agency predicts that global clean fuel initiatives (to encourage the use of electric vehicles) could lead to a tax shortfall of close to $100bn by 2030.
Government’s recently published Road To Zero plans state that conventional petrol and diesel cars will not be allowed to be sold by 2040. Instead, by then, it expects all new cars to have significant zero emissions capability – a hybrid would fit such criteria if it had the option of driving on electric power alone for a period.
It is clear that we need to reduce tailpipe emissions, but we cannot make the leap from where we are today to full EV take-up without serious infrastructure investment, technological development and consumer education programmes.
We need a workable solution today. The future of sustainable personal transportation depends on the optimisation of the petrol engine, making it smaller, more efficient and capable of working with a battery and electric motor even more effectively than it does already.
Over the last six years, our team at Camcon Automotive has developed a system which replaces the camshaft in a petrol engine with a set of tiny electric motors. I’m no engineer so I can’t begin to describe all the tricks this very clever piece of technology can play, but essentially it gives infinite control of how and when the valves open and close, which in turn gives infinite control over how the engine burns fuel – meaning we can burn less.
With our technical partner Jaguar Land Rover, the system has already shown the potential to reduce emissions by about 20 per cent – with the same level of improvement in fuel consumption. That’s diesel economy without the associated emissions issues. And that’s when applied to a regular engine.
In an electrified car – a hybrid, in other words – the system’s potential can be fully exploited, because it is so much more flexible. Simply put, the two work very well together. Nobody can predict what will happen by 2040 but the key message is this: the automotive technology that will win out is the one that offers extremely low – or zero – emissions capability, still contributes fiscally, maximises existing infrastructure and doesn’t require a whole new one.
Fully electric vehicles certainly have their place, but so do electrified ones.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the petrol engine’s death have been greatly exaggerated. It can – and will – move with the times.