• Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Report upbeat about new fuel-saving technology ahead 2017

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A new report from Colorado-based think tank Navigant Research says new and improved fuel-saving technologies will dominate motor vehicle development over the next three years.

More than that, it draws the conclusion that by the end of 2017, fewer than half the cars on the market will be powered by ‘conventional gasoline engines’ i.e. without some high-tech features designed specifically to reduce fuel consumption, even if it’s just an idle-stop function, which Navigant seems to think is going to be the most important innovation in improving fuel efficiency.

While schools of thought disagree strongly with both the assumptions implicit in that conclusion – firstly that adding an idle-stop function makes an engine ‘unconventional’, and secondly that idle stop, by itself, is a significant step towards cleaning up our planet’s atmosphere – it is true that multiple factors, including increasingly strict global standards to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, are driving manufacturers to produce more efficient vehicles.

Navigant expects the prevalence of alternative fuels – ethanol, petrol-ethanol blends, hydrogen, bio-diesel, liquid propane gas and battery power – to continue growing, but says petrol as we know it will remain the leading fuel in the coming years, at least in North America, albeit in smaller-engined, high-compression engines, often turbocharged.

David Alexander, senior research analyst, commented: “There is no single technology that will dominate fuel efficiency improvements in the next decade. The focus, instead, will be on incremental improvements in engines and transmissions, along with weight reduction in as many places as possible.”

Idle-stop technology, he predicted, would add functionality until it became a sort of mild hybrid, with the ability to capture and store energy without the weight (and cost) penalty of a big battery.

Whether that means using a capacitor to store electrical energy or a high-speed, dual-mass flywheel to store kinetic energy while the engine isn’t running is not yet known. The next big thing in automotive design is to waste less of the energy produced by burning hydrocarbon fuels to the atmosphere as heat.

Alexander noted that because every kilowatt recovered and put back into the car’s systems benefits car owners twice: it’s another spoonful of fuel that does not need to be converted into carbon dioxide and another kilowatt of heat that is not adding to the problem of global warming.

Energy recovery is already the new big thing in Formula One, and Navigant expects sales of petrol and diesel vehicles fitted with sophisticated idle-stop technology to reach 63 million annually by 2025, representing 58 percent of all vehicles sold.

The report looks at the effect of consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles, and political pressure to reduce emissions, on engine technology and lightweight materials.

Its global forecasts for vehicle sales, grouped by region, type of fuel and even the number of cylinders, are extrapolated through to 2025, along with forecasts for the sales volumes of important fuel-efficiency systems.