It is not that improvement to existing car engines is entirely impossible.
Recently I was reading about such improvements.
Many such ideas have been patented – and even patents have expired! I wonder why these ideas are not already marketed.
I list down a few of these ideas.
- There is well-known success of gas-electric hybrid engines. This step alone has increased the efficiency dramatically
- There is a series of minor improvements in engine and transmission that claim 2%-4% improvement each
- There is a concept of five stroke engine. Here, as I have understood, exhaust itself is burned again in a cylinder, cleaning up all Carbon Monoxide and hydrocarbon residue. The efficiency is claimed to raise by 20%. It is probably the cleanest thing a car can do
- There is a concept of six stroke engine. Essentially, after the normal exhaust stroke of a four stroke engine, water is injected in the cylinder. Because the cylinder is still hot, it turns into vapor and gives a second power stroke in the cycle. This is then cleaned up in a vapor exhaust stroke. The efficiency is claimed to raise by 30%. The only negative side of #2 could be salts deposition in cylinders and shortened engine life.
This could be solved easily. Here is how:
In my home, like most homes in India, we have water filter installed. This filter takes 150 W and cleans Coke into near distilled quality water. This assembly costs (hold your breath) mere Rupees 10,000/- (USD 250/-) *in retail*. For 2.5 liter of water input, it generates 1-1.5 liter of good water and the rest is waste. Just install one such box in each car and turn it into a hybrid gas-steam engine!
It is interesting to note that changes like #2, #3 and #4 also claim that existing plant processes don’t need to change at all or much.
Further, these inventions claim smaller engines. This can result directly in higher efficiency itself!
Apart from that, lighter engines result in less mining, less transportation cost and higher pickup.
Some of them also claim less wear and tear and noise. Some may cause a bit more – essentially balancing it out.
Also, changes like #2, #3 and #4 can be implemented *independently* from each other. That means, at every step, the efficiency of a car engine can get up by 20%-30%.
Stating parallel to Moore’s law, it is possible to introduce car engine and transmission improvements for five years in a way that car efficiency keeps improving by 20% year over year.
Then why is it not happening already?
- One element is the sheer lack of will to take risk. It is natural if you are sitting on a 100 years old industry.
- The other element is amount of investment versus the scale of sale. A car factory may be cheaper than a fab but number of cars sell much less than number of chips.
- Yet another possibility could be rate of penetration of the technology. People are happy changing their laptops every second year (or cell phones every six months) but not cars. Thus, Moore’s law of car could not penetrate fast.
- Yet another possibility is the way support is organized. For computers, there is hardly anything on the name of hardware support. However, a car goes to a garage every three months for oil change at least. This labor is sometimes skilled, sometimes semi-skilled. Training them every now and then may not be cost effective.
- Yet another possibility is perception. Since last 15 years or so, computer industry has a strong a global focus. Cars, alas, are still a rich man’s toy in a rich country. If Americans can afford burning gas, why bother about Thais?
- Yet another possibility might be conflict of interest. This is serious. I am not sure how many car companies are genuinely interested in bringing down petroleum consumption. I dream of a day when financial interests between oil industry and auto industry are examined in public eye.
Then the wonder is, why don’t third world car makers take this up? Why doesn’t Tata take such risk? Why doesn’t Bajaj take the risk? Why don’t Chinese car makers take this risk?
I leave it here for your comments.