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IJER editorial: The future of the internal combustion engine

4 October 2019

A group of 37 globally prominent scientists representing the International Journal of Engine Research (IJER), a high impact SAGE engineering publication, have published an editorial on The Future of the Internal Combustion Engine.

The transport of goods and people in modern society is almost entirely powered by internal combustion engines (ICE) using liquid fuels. However, recently, the reputation of IC engines has been dealt a severe blow by emission scandals that threaten the further advancement of this technology. There have been proposals to replace vehicle IC engines with electric drives, with the intended goals of further reducing emissions of criteria pollutants and GHGs.

Against this backdrop, an important objective of the editorial is to appeal to young talent, and to show that the internal combustion engine is highly unlikely to become a stranded technology in the foreseeable future.

“Indeed, some potential students and researchers are being dissuaded from seeking careers in IC engine research due to disparaging statements made in the popular press and elsewhere that disproportionately blame IC engines for increasing atmospheric GHGs. Without a continuous influx of enthusiastic, well-trained engineers into the profession, the potential further benefits that improved IC engines can still provide will not be realized.”

A number of factors impacting the future of IC engines are discussed, including:

The editorial concludes that road and off-road transport will be characterized by a mix of solutions involving internal combustion engines, battery and hybrid powertrains, as well as conventional vehicles powered by IC engines. Thus, there is a pressing need to continue research work in IC engines and related fields. The identified areas that require future research include engine efficiency (combustion system, gas exchange, electrification, engine lubrication, and thermal management), emission aftertreatment, fuels (including dual fuel and diesel/natural gas combustion), engine simulations, and engine and vehicle control.

Will the editorial attract more students and young engineers to the area of IC engine research?

Many in the younger generations feel unsettled about the future; they sense, quite correctly, that the industrial economy is facing a systemic crisis—caused by lavish consumption of energy and non-renewable resources—and that their lifestyles and prosperity levels will not match those enjoyed by prior generations. Global warming, while most publicized, is just one facet of the problem. The other facets (some also mentioned in the editorial) include the depletion and/or rising costs of natural resource extraction (including those of crude oil and of the mineral resources required by electric mobility alike), the degradation and loss of arable land, or the ongoing rapid extinction of natural life. Most of the ideas proposed to mediate these problems rely on technological progress and many display a techno-utopian leaning, while few show a potential to reduce energy and resource consumption.

The IJER editorial is debunking several future mobility narratives that are based on naïve optimism rather than on rational analysis. On the other hand, the editorial reads as a call for more business-as-usual—an approach that is not necessarily appreciated by audiences that desire a change. Admittedly, the problem is complex, and no obvious “sustainable” pathway into the future has yet been identified or generally accepted. These topics are increasingly better understood, but require further discussion—the editorial is a valuable contribution to this debate.

Source: IJER editorial