MUNICH, GERMANY – Internal combustion engines will continue to dominate the automotive world for decades to come, senior researchers recently told a conference hosted by Germany’s Handelsblatt
newspaper. Despite the gradual rise of hydrogen-powered fuel cells that emit only water, industry experts say advances that make gasoline and diesel engines more efficient and less polluting will ensure they remain in broad use, reports Reuters.
While fuel cell technology is making rapid progress, it still costs too much and lacks the refueling infrastructure that motorists will need. Conventional engines, however, will increasingly be augmented by hybrid designs using electric motors and will run on a much broader variety of natural and synthetic fuels.
Eventually, according to the report, the two most common types of engines will converge into one that taps the best features of both. Gasoline engines now use spark plugs to ignite a mixture of fuel and air, while diesels compress the mixture until it explodes. A Volkswagen’s expert has also forecast the emergence of a combined combustion system by the middle of the next decade, which will sharply reduce emissions of the soot and nitrogen oxides that diesels now create. Meanwhile, gasoline engines are getting a new lease on life from performance-boosting technologies such as direct fuel injection.
German automotive supplier Continental AG suggested sales of hybrids could rise to nearly 2 million vehicles a year by 2012, while Robert Bosch saw sales at 2.4 million units by 2015, mostly in North America and Asia. Barring a dramatic breakthrough in battery technology that would make electric cars attractive, fuel cells are the ultimate destination for researchers seeking to limit the environmental impact of transporting people and goods, the experts said. While DaimlerChrysler and VW predicted significant growth by 2015 or 2020, a Ford Motor Co. research expert said even forecasting a 50 percent market share by 2050 seemed optimistic, while also suggesting that local or regional governments could promote fuel cells by levying London-style congestion fees for polluting cars.
“Immense pressure could suddenly build up to deliver zero-emission vehicles,” Schmidt told Reuters.